Breathing and Health

In Chinese Traditional Medicine it is believed that 80% of illness is caused by poor breathing.  What constitutes “poor breathing”?  As our brain controls our breathing we don’t have to think about it at all as it happens automatically, with the result that we give our breathing very little thought in our daily lives.

As you are probably aware when we become anxious or nervous our breathing becomes very shallow, depriving us of oxygen in our blood, resulting in an increase in anxiety.  Harnessing and controlling the power of our breath can improve our health, reduce anxiety and stress, boost energy, boost our immune system, increase concentration and help relieve pain.

This is where Yoga breathing or Pranayama can help us. The definition of Pranayama is the regulation of the breath through techniques and exercises.  The Sanskrit translation is that Prana means Life Force and Ayama means extension.

There are many pranayama techniques and I will describe the simplest and easiest ones to you here:

Complete Yoga Breathing

Breathing in allowing your belly and ribs to expand and reversing the flow on the out breath.  How to do this breathing is explained at the beginning of the video “Relaxing Yoga Sequence with Shirley” on this Facebook page.

Single Nostril Breathing

For Relaxation – block your right nostril and breath in and out only through your left nostril.  Continue for two or three minutes.

For Energy – block your left nostril and breath in and out only through your right nostril. Continue for two or three minutes.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

To balance left and right brain and for relaxation and balance.

Block your left nostril and breath into your right nostril, block your right nostril and breath out through your left nostril, breath into your left nostril, block your left nostril and breath out through your right nostril, and continue to breath from side to side for up to five minutes.

Ujjayi Breathing (sometimes called Ocean Breath)

This breathing can help with asthma, low blood pressure and respiratory ailments, can invigorate your nervous system, reduce depression and is an excellent aid to meditation.  It slows down the breath which is very calming.  The best way to get this method of breathing is to breath in and out through your mouth and make a hissing sound in your throat.  

This is caused by the glottis in your throat gently closing, which restricts the breath slightly.  When you have found this sound with your mouth open, close your mouth and continue to breath for as long as you feel comfortable.  This breathing is used in Power yoga in a strong and loud way to create heat but other yoga teachers, such as myself, use it as a soft sound in the throat to slow down the breath and bring calmness.

The Whispering Breath

This breathing can be beneficial for asthma and any other disorder that limits respiratory function.  It can also help improve concentration and relaxation.

To practice, breath in through your nose and out through your mouth as if you were blowing out a candle.  Continue for two or three minutes.

The Symbolism of Respiration

The philosopher Goethe said

“In breathing there are two blessings. Drawing breath, releasing it again, the one pressurises us, the other refreshes us, so wonderfully mixed is life.”

All the ancient languages have the same word for breath as for soul or spirit. It appears that the body has the breath breathed into it and that this breath does not derive from the material universe but is the divine breath which animates us into living beings.

Through the breath we are constantly linked to the metaphysical world. The breath links all life on our planet as the air we breathe links us with everything and binds us (humans, animals and plant life) all together.