How Yoga Works: Real Life Breath Work
Can there really be a wrong way to breathe? Part 1
BY MAGAZINE EDITOR SUSAN MAIER-MOUL
In the movie Manhattan there’s a vaudeville joke set at a fundraiser. A woman opines, “I finally had an orgasm and my doctor told me it was the wrong kind.”
Woody Allen delivers the punch line, “I’ve never had the wrong kind. Ever. My worst one was right on the money.”
Apparently we think the same is true of breathing – as long as it’s happening, it really can’t really be wrong. As far as we can tell, our habitual way of breathing is right on the money.
And that’s the problem
Latency is the time between an action and its effect. Latency is why we click web icons repeatedly, shake our phones and look at them, or get frustrated by waiting and push the up button for the elevator when we want to go down. Nothing seems to be happening.
Latency is also why we don’t get savvy about the effects of poor breathing.
So much of what occurs when we we’re not breathing well doesn’t have a strong enough immediate effect for us to associate it with the way we’re drawing breath, nor are the effects things that we normally think of in relation to breathing.
We can breathe badly for a long time without noticing anything. Then when we’ve got a headache or feel tense, we’re not sure why. We look outside ourselves for reasons, or we blame a bad attitude.
The single most effective thing you can change right now
Unless we’re breathing mouth closed, through our noses and naturally from the diaphragm, a lot of what’s happening when we’re breathing all day is a waste of energy at best. It’s harder work for our bodies to breathe badly, and it raises our heart rate as a result.
At its worst, poor breathing is damaging to our health. If you think holding your breath all the time isn’t doing you in, you’re wrong.
Dennis Lewis is the author of The Tao of Natural Breathing. He writes
It is important to realize that 70 percent of the body’s waste products are eliminated through the lungs, while the rest are eliminated through urine, feces, and skin.
If you’ve ever breathed recirculated air on an overlong plane flight, you know the feeling of head pounding grogginess and crankiness that results from lack of clean, fresh air. Imagine all that recycled nastiness in your own body and you can see why shallow breath or mouth breathing produces a noxious body chemistry.
Because it reduces the amount of our digestive juices, poor breathing often leads to constipation. This means even more waste and toxins hang around being reabsorbed by our bodies, rather than being expelled.
More than a yuck factor
Poor breathing habits mean we don’t actually get that 70% out of our bodies. Not getting the waste and toxins out is involved in enough illness and disorder to make your head spin –
It retards the functioning of the lymphatic system, whose job it is to trap and destroy viral and bacterial invaders, and thus gives these invaders more time to cause disease.
In short, such breathing weakens and disharmonizes the functioning of almost every major system in the body and makes us more susceptible to chronic and acute illnesses and “dis-eases” of all kinds: infections, constipation, respiratory illnesses, digestive problems, ulcers, depression, sexual disorders, sleep disorders, fatigue, headaches, poor blood circulation, premature aging, and so on.
Exhale. No, really, exhale.
Try this simple breathing awareness several times a day.
This is an exaggerated version of diaphragmatic breathing. There’s no need to make a big chest. Instead, reconnect consciously with your abdominal muscles.
- Sit up in a chair or on cushions; let your shoulders relax. Breathing with your mouth closed, notice your breath.
- Place your hands on your abdomen and exhale slowly and completely.
- As you’re exhaling draw your abdominal muscles in and by contracting them, willfully press the breath out of your body.
- As you’re inhaling deliberately relax your belly muscles as completely as possible.
- Every time you exhale take your time, and exhale completely.
- You can add pauses in between the inhale and the exhale, and in between the exhale and the inhale if the pauses feel relaxed and natural, not forced. If pauses aren’t enjoyable, don’t add them.
- Repeat six to ten breaths then relax your focus from your breath.
- Examine how you feel.
Begin the path to vitality by remembering to breathe with your mouth closed. Find out why in Part 2, tomorrow.
Make it easier to breathe by learning how to sit up – watch Nicole!
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.