How is Breathing Central to Your Health and Well Being?
We typically discount the importance of the breath in our daily lives. In reading this article, I would like to invite you to experience how central the breath is to your health. The breath is enough means that we can use it in very concrete, measurable ways to increase our wellbeing.
Yogic breathing techniques have been shown to reduce stress and improve immune function. They also significantly improve several measures of lung function in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. (Click here for a meta-analysis of eleven studies.) Reducing stress, strengthening your immune system and improving lung capacity can help you cope with the current pandemic.
Breathing can Reduce Stress and Boost Immunity
Through the conscious regulation of the breath you have the power to influence your autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is typically not under conscious control, so the ability to manipulate it through the breath is quite extraordinary. The ANS is responsible both for stressing you out, and for calming you down. It releases stress hormones into your system to make you more alert, and also lowers stress hormone levels to calm you down. When you become aware of your breath and learn how to alter it deliberately, you can consciously influence your ANS. You can breathe faster, more powerfully, and higher in the torso to increase your power output when desired. However, you can also breathe slower, lower, and more gently to inhibit the stress mode and reduce stress-induced immunosupression.
Breathing can Increase Your Lung Capacity
When we breathe normally, we move about 500mL of air in and out of our lungs (called tidal volume). Well-functioning lungs can inhale and exhale about 5L of air, or 10 times the tidal volume of a normal breath. However, most people, and especially older people, have lost much of that additional, protective capacity. It stands to reason that the more your breath is restricted already, the more problematic any further restrictions to your breath will be. The good news is that yogic breathing techniques allow you to regain a significant portion of that lost capacity with regular practice.
*This article is reposted with kind permission from the author himself. For Gernot’s personal website, click here.
To improve your understanding and practice of your breath, head to Urban Yogis Online Academy, we have a 3 part course series – Biomechanics of Breath that offers an in-depth exploration of anatomy, breathing mechanics and how to use the breath to deepen your mind-body connection and power up your life.
About the Author
Gernot Huber has been practicing and studying yoga since 1996. While working in Silicon Valley, he learned Ashtanga vinyasa and pranayama during lunch breaks from a co-worker. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Modern Thought and Literature from Stanford University. He also has a master’s degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Cornell University. Gernot loves cooking, eating, reading, bicycling, and wilderness travel, and practices monkey acro yoga with his two young sons.