Archives for posts with tag: pranayamic breathing

Life itself is a school. When we graduate from university and start earning our living, we think we know everything and we act so. However, education never ends with graduation from university. Life-long education. Life teaches us new things. We develop and progress continously throughout our lives. Yoga classes are the same. When we become a yoga instructor, we think that we know everything. How wrong it is. Every class is an interaction and exchange. It is possible for us — the teachers — to learn new things from our students. Also, it is possible for us to develop and progress ourselves with the help of the questions asked by our students.

In the previous week, one of the students asked why we were breathing through the nose in yoga. At first, I could not make up my mind. I could explain why we were inhaling through the nose but I could not explain why we were exhailing through the nose because I had no information in detail. Every word I said would just be a guess. I promised to look into this issue.

Breathing in yoga? Yes, “prana” simply means “breath.” In deeper sense it means “life force” and “physical, mental, intellectual, spiritual and cosmic energy.” “Prana” is the principle of life and consciousness. It is breath, respiration, life, energy and strength.

“Pranayama” is comprised of two words: “Prana” and “ayama.” “Ayama” means extension, stretch, length, expansion, regulation, prolongation, restraint or control. So, “pranayama” means extension of the breath or its control. “Pranayama” consists of inhalation, exhalation and retention. Retention can be done after both inhalation and exhalation. Inhalation stimulates the system whereas exhalation is to throw away the toxins from the body. Retention distributes the energy throughout the body. When we talk about “pranayama”, we talk about movements including horizontal expansion, vertical ascension and circumferential extension of the lungs and the rib cage.

When we breathe in, the chest expans and the lungs fill with fresh oxygen. When we breathe out, the chest narrows and the lungs are emptied. When we hold breath, the heart rate slows down and the heart muscle takes a rest.

Generally, it is possible to talk about four types of respiration:

  1. High/Clavicular (collar bones) respiration: The neck muscles activate only the upper parts of the lungs.
  2. Intercostal/midbreathing Only the central prats of the lungs are activated.
  3. Low/diaphragmatic breathing: The lower parts of the lungs are activated chiefly whereas the top and central parts remain less active.
  4. In total/pranayamic breathing: The entire lungs are sed to ther fullest capacity. When we inhale, the chest and abdomen rises and when we exhale, all these parts distinguish. The chest and abdomen is lifted up, forward and to the sides.

In yoga classes, “pranayamic breathing” is preferred. In classes, teachers ask students to breathe in and out through the nose. The air is cleaned and warmed up with the help of the structure of the nose. The air then goes down through the neck and reaches the lungs. When the diaphragm muscle contracts, the ribs move up and forward (intercostal muscles), the lungs expand and fill with air. When exhailing, the diaphragm relaxes, the ribs move down and inward (intercostal muscles) and lungs shrink, giving out the air.

When we expand in yoga classes, when we extend the spine, when we open the arms to the sides or lift them, when we are getting out of a forward bend or twist, when we are rising up from a pose against gravity, we inhale. When we close our bodies, when we bring the arms to the center, when we bend forward or twist or do something in line with the gravity, we exhale.

We have told that the reason why we breathe in through the nose is to clean and warm up the air. So why do we prefer to exhale through the nose? When we breathe out through the nose, the air exhaled absorbs moisture, reducing dehydration. When we breathe out through the nose, it is good for oral health.  Mouth breathing causes a drying out of the gums, increasing the acidity in the mouth. Exhaling through the nose reduces snoring and sleep apnoea and enables a good sleep. Moreover, breathing through the nose regulates the volume of air breathed, so that it can effectively match the body’s oxygen needs.

Also, breathing through the mouth causes overbreathing or hyperventilation as we use the upper chest rather than the diaphragm. It dries the airways, causing coughing and worsening of asthma.

Also, breathing through the nose is related with the carbondioxide level in our lungs and blood. When the carbondioxide level is normal, enough oxygen is sent to our tissues and brain. Most of us believe that carbondioxide is bad for us. However, if no carbondioxide, then we cannot get the oxygen our bodies need. When the carbondioxide level is in proper level, it triggers the red blood cells to release oxygen they carry.

We provide the carbondioxide our bodies use through our own bodies, not the air. Therefore, if we do not breathe correctly, we cannot produce the proper level of carbondioxide we need.

The lungs store carbondioxide. If the carbondioxide is under a certain level, we feel some imbalance and some symptoms show up. When there is enough carbondioxide in the lungs, the respiration is done through the diaphragm.

When we breathe out through the mouth, the carbondioxide level in our lungs and blood reduces and less oxygen is sent to the brain and tissues. When the carbondioxide level is less than normal, the blood PH degree rises toward its alkaline limit and a message is sent to the brain. The brain stops the diaphragm to stop the respiration and carbondioxide level increases. When the blood pH is restored and oxygen flows again, the brain tells the diaphragm to start to move and the next breath is allowed.

If we do not use the diaphragm as the main muscle of respiration, we face problems in regulating the carbondioxide level in our lungs, When we breathe out through the mouth, we only use the upper chest not the diaphragm. We can feel tense in the chest and have problems in respiration, We regulate the carbondioxide level we will throw away the body, thanks to the diaphragm.

For all these reasons, we prefer inhaling and exhaling through the nose. In spiritual and mental dimension, breathing through the nose calms down the body and breath and silences the mind. When we breathe in and out through the nose, the breath is extended, deepened and thus, the mind is calmed down.

As a result, “prana” is not just “breath.” It is “life force.” “Prana” is breath, respiration, life, energy and strength. Yoga classes are a part of life and it is possible to learn new things during classes. The aspiration of students to learn new things make them ask questions to questions, which in return develop and progress teachers. If one of the students had not asked me why we were breathing through the nose in yoga, I would not have made such a deep research. Every moment is an opportunity for us to develop and progress. Every yoga class is an opportunity for us to develop. What is important is to open to development and progress. I am so glad I have so many wonderful students. Namas’te.

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What is the difference between yoga and other physical activities? I sometimes find myself asking this question. What is the difference between yoga and “dynamic stretching” or “pilates”? Or any other physical activity?

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Yoga literally means to unite, to yoke. Yoga means the unity of the body, mind and soul. It means the harmony of the body, mind and the soul. If we lose the harmony among body, mind and soul when flowing in a yoga class, we are not in a state of “yoga”. “Yoga” is actually a “state” instead of a physical activity.

What instructors care about the most in yoga classes is the harmony of the body and the breath. Inhaling and getting into one “asana” (pose) and exhaling into another “asana.” Let’s elaborate it. Doing one “asana” as long as we breathe in and doing another “asana” as long as we breathe out and end up in the final position of that “asana.” Surely we cannot ignore the importance of breath in all physical activities however breath has a peculiar place in yoga. Breath is our soul and therefore any obstruction in the breath means making a concession of our soul. For this reason, we practice “pranayama” (breath liberating) exercises at the beginning and end of yoga classes. Sitting in a cross-legged position or on the knees, keeping the spine erect and focusing on the breath. Focusing on the breath and expanding the breath and in time achieving “pranayamic breathing” which means “yoga breath.” A respiration with the lungs, diaphragm and the abdomen. Using the full capacity of the lungs, deep and long breaths with the help of the diaphragm and the abdomen. And when doing the “asana”s throughout the class, expanding the capacity of the lungs and using “pranayamic breathing.” This breathing style and the importance attributed to breath i.e. the soul throughout the class differs yoga from other physical activities.

Using the breath when flowing from one “asana” to another in fact reduces the burden on the body. We helped our body be opened and closed with the help of the breath and continued the flow without making ourselves physically exhaused thanks to our breath. Actually we were generating energy within our bodies. We were focusing the mind on the breath and thus the mind could not think any other thing when trying to harmonize the body and the breath. It was only watching the breath and the body and tried to move the body simultaneously with the breath. Therefore, the mind was just dealing with the body and the breath and was wandering neither in the past nor the future. It stayed right in the moment and the present time. And this was what differed yoga from other physical activities. The breath, i.e. the soul, the mind and the body was in unity and harmony.

Moreover, we were working on a certain part of the body in yoga classes and made a peak pose at the half of the class depending on that certain part we had stretched and strengthened. We could work on a hip opening flow in one yoga class and focus on inversions in another. We could choose to backbend in another yoga class.

Lastly, the most important feature that differs yoga from other activities is to work on a mental relief. To meditate for at least five minutes at the beginning of the class and to direct the attention and mind on the body and breath in order to release all the tension and tiredness of the day. A long “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting pose) at th end of the class in order to overcome the physical tiredness of the class.

You may think why I am writing this post. I am writing it because I talked to one of the students before a group class last week. The student said, “it is not important how tired I am or how it is hard for me to come to class or how a challenging and difficult flow we do throughout the class, I feel energetic after resting in “savasana” and waking up after this pose. It is as if my body is re-charged.” Yes, it was really so. As we deepen our breath in yoga, more fresh oxgyen is pumped to the blood and this boosts our energy, making us feel more healthy, strong and enthusiastic. According to some studies, yoga poses adjusts “cortisol” hormone, which makes us feel energetic. Like in all other physical activities, yoga helps increase “serotonine” and “endorphine” hormones and we end up the class smiling. I think there is no need to talk about how energetic and enthusiastic we may feel with laughter and smile. What differs yoga from other physical activities? And you are still asking me this question? No traces of tiredness after class but instead a body full of energy which may take you to the next class. And haven’t you still tried yoga yet?