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ALUMNI GUEST ARTICLE – BREATHE IN, BREATHE OUT WITH GURDEEPAK SINGH

In our latest alumni guest article, 2008 alumni Gurdeepak Singh discusses the power of breath awareness. As a qualified yoga teacher, owner of Aroga Yoga School in Bern and a certified mountain-hiking guide, we couldn’t be in better hands.

“Don’t use a lot where a little will do.”

Conventional Wisdom

How does it make you feel when you consciously think about your breath? Breathing is after all just normal stuff which works automatically without a person’s conscious effort.

A few years ago, my breath awareness was limited to a few situations – for example when in a stressful situation I would take a few deep breaths and get on with my work again. Other moments I was reminded of my breathing was in high altitude (upwards of 3,000 meters), when each step becomes a sort of a rhythmic play of breath and steps. One step after the other, you learn to take it in your stride.

Since my own practice of Pranayama (yogic-breathing), which has brought long term improvements to my respiratory system including lung capacity, strengthening of the breathing muscles and improvement in efficiency of breathing, I have rediscovered my rhythmic play of breath and steps. 

BACKGROUND

Let us take a short peek into some studies on breathing. A healthy person in normal condition (without chronic ailments) breathes in from 6-7 liters of air per minute.

DID YOU KNOW: A normal person breathes in almost 11,000 liters of air every day?

The air that is inhaled has about 20-percent oxygen, and the air that is exhaled is about 15-percent oxygen, so, about 5-percent of the volume of air is consumed in each breath and converted to carbon dioxide. Therefore, a human being uses about 550 liters of pure oxygen (19 cubic feet) per day.

People with chronic ailments ‘breathe in more air’

Below is a chart that shows persons with some sort of chronic ailments tending to breathe in more air per minute a.k.a. minute ventilation.

Persons with chronic ailments tend to breathe in more than required air into the system therefore Hyperventilating. Breathing deeper and faster than normal (hyperventilating) alkalises the body by expelling carbon dioxide (CO2) and increases the sensitivity of the nervous system.

Persons with chronic ailments tend to breathe in more than required air into the system therefore Hyperventilating. Breathing deeper and faster than normal (hyperventilating) alkalises the body by expelling carbon dioxide (CO2) and increases the sensitivity of the nervous system.

Minute Ventilation rates.png

Source: normalbreathing.com

DID YOU KNOW: Carbon dioxide (CO2) is good for you

“Normal ventilation leads to high (or normal) CO2 in the arterial blood and body cells. As a result, O2 transport is normal and a healthy person has normal oxygen values in the brain, heart and other body organs and cells.”

Prolonged or excessive hyperventilation can cause adverse effects including bronchoconstriction; dizziness, fainting and headaches due to vasoconstriction and  unsteadiness, skin rashes, excessive appetite and emotional instability due to increased nervous sensitivity.

(Simon-Borg Oliver in Applied Anatomy & Physiology of Yoga).

DID YOU KNOW: Healthy individuals today are breathing in more than a few decades ago 

Studies have also shown that in the modern day, due to our lifestyles and environment the normal person is also hyperventilating as clear from this chart below.

Hyperventilation chart Modern Individuals.png

In Yogic breathing (Pranayama), periods of hyperventilation are managed to a certain advantage in a way that mild alkalosis increases mobility (flexibility) of joints, muscles and nerves because of fluid surrounding these structures becomes less vicious in alkaline conditions.

YOGIC BREATHING: So what is the fuss about ?

Short periods of Hyperventilation can assist in internal cleansing, help strength, flexibility and fitness and prepare a yoga practitioner for  a meditative lifestyle which mainly involves Hypoventilation (reduced minute ventilation).

Let us look at how yogic breathing works. Yogic breathing is synonymous with Diaphragmatic breathing – which sends the Diaphragm ‘down and out’ with the inhale and ‘in and up’ with the exhale.

Diaphragmmatic Breathing.png

APPLICATION IN SPORT

Here in this video from TourdeFrance one can see the practice of Abdominal breathing to propel in the climb.

NON-SPORT APPLICATION

As a famous Tenor, Luciano Pavarotti talks about Diaphragm supported breathing.

So how can breathing exercises increase CO2 levels in a controlled way?

According to Hatha Yoga Pradipika, an experienced Yoga practitioner can achieve this by using Hypoventilation in the form of:

  • Respiratory suspension (breath-holding)
  • Long slow deep breathing
  • Minimal breathing to “still the fluctuations in breath”
  • Hypoventilation causes physiological acidosis (acidic blood), hypoxia (reduced oxygen in blood) and hypercapnia (increased CO2 in blood).

YOGA BREATHING EXERCISES

Let us look at a few yogic breathing exercises that can cause us to Hypoventilate in a regulated way.

BHRAMARI PRANAYAMA (Humming bee breath)

Bhramari is the type of pranayama that involves audible humming of the exhalation through the mouth. This  causes nitric oxide formation in the sinuses. Humming has been shown to cause fifteen times (15x) the normal production of nitric oxide (NO) gas in the sinuses of the skull (Weitzberg & Lundberg; 2002).

NO has been shown to have several beneficial effects on the body. NO has also shown to regulate physiological processes such as vasodilation, thus enabling opening of the blood vessels allowing blood to reach vital organs such as the heart, brain, kidneys, liver etc). NO is also implicated  in smooth muscle relaxation, pregnancy and blood vessel formation.

Due to the central anti-stress effect that Nitric Oxide has, yogic texts have always regarded bhramari pranayama with high esteem.

NAADHI SODHANA PRANAYAMA (Alternative nostril breathing)

Nadhi = Channels

Sodhana = Cleansing

As the name suggests, breathing in Nadhi Sodhana involves breathing in from one nostril and breathing out through the other. There are various rhythms and ratios of inhale to exhale including combinations of holding breath inside and holding the breath outside after the exhale, which are introduced over time with more practice.

Typical benefits from Nadhi Sodhana pranayama include a slightly tonic effect on the mind, relaxing effect on the body as a whole (muscle relaxation, lower respiration rate, lower blood pressure), vasodilation and improved internal regulation (digestion, elimination, hormones, detoxification, sleep quality, circadian rhythms).

CONCLUSIONS

Along with breathing exercises, it is very important to address lifestyle changes which impact chronic overbreathing. Below for a partial list of important factors to this lifestyle change:

1) Understanding that breathing less at rest delivers more oxygen to body cells

2) Constant commitment to breathing normalization since the purpose of training is to change one’s automatic breathing pattern

3) Adopting Dietary changes to introduce more alkaline foods & lifestyle

4) Understanding that even short episodes of hyperventilation (e.g., heavy breathing for 1-2 hours during sleep, overeating, or stress) produce serious enough damage

5) Creating a daily ritual to practice Pranayama and some basic cleansing exercises

These are some of the changes, which along with our regular yoga practice can help us achieve a state of homeostasis with our breath.

The blog piece is written by Gurdeepak Singh, a Graduate of AISTS MAS 2008. Gurdeepak, Indian, is a qualified yoga teacher, certified mountain-hiking guide and a hobbyist mountaineer and climber living in Bern, Switzerland. He believes outdoor settings are a catalyst for self-reflections. He runs Aroga Yoga School in Bern where he gives Yoga courses, Workshops and talks on Meditation.

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