I always find that knowing why I should take up a practice that is touted to be extremely beneficial for my health is a great motivator. This article explains some of the mechanics of breathing and why deep breathing is so beneficial to us.
The breath is something we deal with, usually unconsciously, from the moment we pop out into this world grasping at the air with a fresh little set of lungs. Without even thinking about it, we go about our lives and the breath comes and goes regulated by sensors in the brain telling the lungs when to breathe deeper to get a bit more oxygen, or when to slow down, or even when to breathe a bit faster. It is common knowledge in the world of yoga, however, by regulating our breathing, we can have an enormous effect on how we feel both mentally and physically and to some degree bypass this automatic breathing.
Not only in the yoga world, this concept is starting to become a lot more mainstream. In 2006 Jerath and a team of research colleagues validated that diaphragmatic yoga breathing techniques have a positive effect on the function of the immune system, hypertension, asthma and stress-related disorders. As far back as 1990 research reported in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine by SD Rosen and team found that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome can be the result of chronic habitual over breathing.
The simplest and most effective way to affect our health and breathing is to breathe deep down into the bottom of the lungs. Technically what is happening is that on the inward breath the diaphragm, which is our main breathing muscle, tightens and moves downwards towards the abdominal area. This creates more room in the lungs so air is automatically drawn in. With controlled breathing we consciously bring the breath deep down by relaxing the abdominal muscles on the inward breath. In response to this the abdomen expands slightly hence the term ‘belly breathing’.
At the base of the lungs is a nerve of primary importance to our health. It is called the vagus nerve. When we stimulate this nerve via the deep belly breath a substance called acetylcholine is released. This substance is responsible for memory and learning, it is also calming and relaxing and new research has found that it is a major player in preventing inflammation, which is thought to be a reaction to stress and a major player in many illnesses. Exciting new research has also found evidence of how stimulating the vagus nerve can activate our stem cells to repair and rebuild our organs.
All this research confirms what the yoga tradition has always known – yoga breathing is very important for great health!
By Vrndavan Dasi
Founder and Principal of Veda Yoga Teacher Training