Issues with poor breathing
Without oxygen, there are no humans. If the organs do not receive sufficient oxygen then they begin to go offline. If the brain is deficient in oxygen we can become mentally scattered, nervous and frustrated. Not only the brain and organs suffer, but also our muscles tense as our Sympathetic Nervous System stimulates the ‘fight or flight’ response. This is considered a stress response and causes an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and respiration. Blood flow is directed to the brain, heart and muscles in preparation for fleeing or fighting. Functions such as digestion, immunity and reproduction are halted at this point in time. Breathing and oxygen promotes blood flow so where there is blood flow, there is healing. Therefore breathing poorly can rob your body of the opportunity to heal efficiently or cause your body to store bacteria and pathogens. If poor breathing is practiced consistently, this can contribute to illness or disease.
Issues that contribute to poor breathing are bad posture, excess consumption of alcohol, lack of sleep, processed foods, stress and toxic relationships.
Benefits of breathing properly
Oxygen is vital for survival, energy and the function of the brain, glands, nerves and organs. Using the full range of breath promotes flexibility and strength in the muscles and joints. It also promotes healthy nerve function, blood flow, hormone secretions, immunity, reproduction, energy metabolism and health of the internal organs. When you breathe in such a way that permits all parts of the lungs to fill and receive optimal oxygen, then the body is able to deliver oxygen to every cell in the body and remove carbon dioxide. Oxygen can be considered fuel for the bloodstream to continue transporting other nutrients, minerals and hormones.
If we are breathing deeply and steadily then the Parasympathetic Nervous System is able to activate its ‘rest and digest’ response. This grants the body to be nourished, de-stressed and repaired. (It should be noted that there is a rebalancing of the nervous system that coincides with proper breathing, as efficient breathing is required for both the PSNS and SNS responses). The brain is able to activate Alpha brainwaves more readily, to enhance sleep or vitality. Feelings of being grounded, calm and focused begin to arise which encourages concentration and clarity. Muscle tension is released and correct posture is encouraged when we breathe fully. Heart rate and blood pressure decreases. Detoxification of the lungs increases, thereby increasing physiological integrity of the skin. The lymphatic system functions more optimally with proper breathing as every inhale causes the lymph fluid to rise, every exhale allows it to fall back down. The lymphatic system doesn’t have a pumping mechanism so it relies on movement. Cellular renewal is stimulated from our immunity clearing out any waste. All of these physiological changes help to lower stress and anxiety levels.
Energetically, we are helping to comb out the granthi (knots) in our body, in order to allow the prana to move through the body (Sushumna) unobstructed. There is increased absorption of energy into the Pranamaya kosha by allowing prana to flow freely in the nadis and chakras. This can lead the student to a higher spiritual experience by increasing Dharana through focus and awareness of the breath.
In addition, if we practice awareness of the breath then we can establish regular patterns of breathing and the benefits discussed above continue to flow.
By Alyssa McLeod
Yoga Synergy. 2016. Breathing (Part 1): How to breathe to help your spine, internal organs and energy levels. [ONLINE] Available at: https://yogasynergy.com/blog/how-to-breathe-to-help-your-spine-internal-organs-and-energy-levels/. [Accessed 01 September 2016].
Moksha Academy of Yoga, 2014, Pranayama Labs 1, p.1-10