I've just started reading a book given to me by one of my yoga students.
I haven't been able to put it down.
If you haven't read Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor, then I definitely recommend you do. It's a New York Times Bestseller, and for good reason.
Let's start with defining what yoga breathing is. Think of it in two parts: Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose, allowing your chest and belly to expand as air fills your lungs. Then exhale slowly through your nose. Repeat. That's the basics of breathing. From there, you may move on to other forms of pranayama practice. We've uploaded an amazing 5-part series on getting to know your breath to the Activ Life Online Studio, that you're going to love incorporating into your regular yoga classes!
The nose is a natural filter for air, warming or cooling the air before it reaches your lungs and protecting you against an estimated 20 billion particles of foreign matter every day. On average, you take roughly 20,000 breaths per day. Although a primarily subconscious effort, breathing is complex and affects all parts of the body.
"In a single breath, more molecules of air will pass through your nose than all the grains of sand on all the world's beaches - trillions and trillions of them." - James Nestor.
There are many other reasons we breathe through our nose in yoga. Firstly, nose breathing reduces stress and relaxes you including your diaphragm and your belly. Consequently, diaphragmatic breathing helps you to relax, it lowers the stress hormone cortisol in your body, it lowers your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure, improves your core stability, improves your endurance in exercise, and slows your breathing rate so that you expend less energy. A great way to forget about your busy day and immerse yourself in your yoga class.
Interestingly, the nose is designed to capture moisture and those who breathe through an open mouth have a 42 per cent greater moisture loss. More moisture loss equals more dehydration, which equals more fatigue.
Still asking why you need to learn how to breathe?
Whether you want a remedy for respiratory problems, straighten crooked teeth, boost your athletic performance or even superheat in subzero temperatures (for some unknown reason!) it's fascinating to learn how the air that enters our lungs affects every moment of our lives.
Give alternate nostril breathing a go right now, sitting at your desk or waiting for the kettle to boil. With regular practice, one of the main benefits of alternate nostril breathing is that it balances the nervous system and may lower stress.
The right nostril activates your fight-or-flight response. When you inhale primarily through this channel your circulation speeds up, your body gets hotter and cortisol levels, blood pressure and heart rate all increase as if you are being chased by a tiger. Inhaling through the left nostril has the opposite effect; a brake to the right nostril's accelerator. It is deeply connected to the parasympathetic nervous system and lowers blood pressure, cools the body and reduces anxiety.
Louise FitzRoy is the Principal of Activ Life, a leading health and wellness yoga company based in the Cayman Islands. If you enjoyed this article you may also like: Why do you practise yoga? and Beat the burnout.