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  • The Science of Conscious Breathing

    September 09, 2022 4 min read

    "The life of a yogi is not measured by the number of his days but by the number of his breaths." - Iyengar

    Inhale and slowly exhale. Focus on your breath. Deepen your breath. As yoga practitioners, we hear these instructions all the time but what does it really mean to be aware of our breath? How does conscious and controlled breathing help our yoga practice and, by extension, our life? Read on to find the answers!

    The nuts and bolts of the respiratory system

    Before you skip over the anatomy lesson, think about this: how often do you breathe through your mouth? If we take into account that our mouth is connected to our esophagus, most of the air we breathe ends up in our stomach. If, instead, we breathe through our nose, which is connected to the trachea, the air goes straight to our lungs and we reap the benefits of this vital process. See? Remembering these tidbits of anatomical facts goes a long way!

    Let’s break down the respiratory organs and their functions:

    • Nose (including sinuses): Filters, purifies and humidifies the air and controls its temperature.
    • Pharynx (throat): Guides the air to the trachea.
    • Trachea (windpipe): Connects the pharynx to the lungs.
    • Bronchial tubes: Branch-like tubes inserted into the lungs that transport air directly to the lungs.
    • Lungs: Main respiratory organs in charge of extracting oxygen from the air and expelling carbon dioxide from the body through exhalations. This process allows oxygen to be delivered to our bloodstream, organs and tissues.  
    • Diaphragm: Muscle located under the lungs and heart, and above the stomach. It contracts and relaxes to increase or decrease the volume of the lungs.

    Our brain during conscious connected breathing

    The Science of Conscious Connected Breathing

    Our brain during conscious connected breathing

    By simply slowing down our breath and paying attention to it we engage in conscious, controlled or paced breathing. Studies in neurophysiology have shown that this action activates regions of the brain linked to emotions, attention and body awareness. As a result, we may experience reduced stress and a healthier immune system.

    Every time we take a slow breath, our body experiences more than just a nourishing wave of oxygenation. Breathing, conscious breathing in particular, calms down our central nervous system. This means that each round of inhalations and exhalations help placate that fight-or-flight state that is so difficult to turn off in these stressful times. It also means that if we replace quick, shallow and agitated breathing with slow and mindful breaths, we may experience a decrease in anxiety, insomnia and depression because the brain is no longer in “overdrive” mode.

    Learn more by reading What Happens to Your Brain When You Meditate?

    Balancing thoughts and emotions through breathwork

    In “Light on Yoga,” B.K.S. Iyengar talks about pranayama, the Sanskrit term for the extension of breath and its control. He says, “The life of a yogi is not measured by the number of his days but by the number of his breaths.” By following a practice of rhythmic breathing patterns or breathwork, we strengthen our respiratory system, soothe our central nervous system and free the mind, thus paving the way for deeper concentration.

    As we saw in the previous sections, science backs these statements but more research is needed to fully understand the link between conscious breathing and the state of our minds and bodies. However, if you read the teachings of yoga masters, old and new, I’m ready to bet that most of them will agree on this: breathing is just as important as asanas. Some might even say that the self-awareness obtained through conscious breathing is more important than beautifully flowing through a sun salutation.

    Now that we’ve rediscovered the importance of conscious breathing in our life and yoga practice are you ready to give breathing exercises a try?

    Tips to improve the quality of the breath

    Balance Emotion Through Breath | Mukha Yoga

    Alternate Nostril Breathing - excellent for clearing the mind and calming the nerves.

    Both the scientific and yogic communities agree that one of the best ways to improve the quality of the breath is by inhaling through the nose. Many of us find ourselves breathing through our mouth, which leads to dry mouth, tiredness and brain fog, bad breath, among other conditions.

    Additionally, good posture is key to effective breathing. Thanks to our previous anatomy lesson, we know that the respiratory organs and muscles are located in the thorax. If we slouch, we automatically contract the airways and limit the movement of the diaphragm. Yoga poses that stabilize and elongate the spine help improve our inhalations and exhalations. Next time you feel short of breath, close your mouth, correct your posture and see what changes.

    Check out our articles on how yoga can help with developing better postural habits: 

    Aimeé Durán Triujeque l Mukha Yoga Writer

    By Aimeé Durán Triujeque; All Rights Reserved @2022

    Aimeé Durán Triujeque l Mukha Yoga Writer By Aimeé Durán Triujeque; All Rights Reserved @2022

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