How many times have you heard your teacher say any of these:
- Remember to breathe
- Listen to your breath
- Are you out of breath? Then you might be pushing yourself too far
- Breathe, relax
- Focus on your breath
- Breathe deeply
- Use the breath to guide you deeper into the pose
And so on and so on and so on until we sound like a broken record. A broken record – but why though?
Because we breathe without even thinking about it – you breathe all the way through the night when you are asleep and you don’t even notice it.
You use your breath to talk and you don’t even realise it.
You breathe subconsciously all the time and you don’t even bat an eyelid thinking about it.
This is why yoga teachers sound like a broken record – it is easy to forget to consciously breathe.
Ok, so why should we start to consciously breathe, and practice taking fuller, deeper breaths by slowing down the rate at which we breathe, and by doing all weird funny things like lion’s breath or alternate nostril breathing or the breath of fire?
Because the breath has a hugely profound impact on the body – the breath can do so much… but first in true L’Oreal advert fashion, here’s the science bit:
With each breath, millions of sensory receptors in the respiratory system send signals via the vagus nerve to the brainstem.
Fast breathing triggers the brain at a higher rate, forcing it to activate the sympathetic nervous system, turning up stress hormones, heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, sweat production, and anxiety.
Slow breathing induces the parasympathetic response, dialing down everything listed above as it turns up relaxation, calm, and mental clarity.
This happened because when we breathe consciously – we activate a different part of our brains.
Unconscious breathing is controlled by the medulla oblongata in the brain stem, which is the primitive part of the brain.
Conscious breathing comes from the more evolved areas of the brain in the cerebral cortex.
Consciously breathing sends impulses from the cortex to the connecting areas that impact emotions – it has a relaxing and balancing effect on the emotions.
By consciously breathing, you are controlling which aspects of the mind dominate, causing your consciousness to rise from the primitive/instinctual to the evolved/elevated.
And there’s loads of benefits:
- Mental clarity
When we are experiencing an emotional reaction, slow deep breaths trigger the release of endorphins, producing a calming effect.
- Eases pain
When we breathe deeply, we oxygenate the blood, which causes our brain to release endorphins. It is these endorphins help reduce stress in the body and decrease levels of pain.
The parasympathetic nervous system is what controls our fight or flight response. Deep breathing triggers our parasympathetic nervous system, neutralizes stress and elicits a calming feeling.
Our lymphatic system is responsible for flushing out toxins and carrying away waste from our immune system and unlike the heart, it does not have its own built-in pump – this is where the breath comes in.
- Weight loss
Much like in aerobic exercise, deep breathing keeps our cells in an aerobic state encourages the burning of fat rather than energy stores of glycogen.
It’s not a lie – this is all scientific fact – breathing slowly is GOOD FOR YOU!
So why, again I ask, why do we forget to breathe?
You tell me – you know the answer as much as I do.
We never consciously do it, we feel self conscious of sounding too loud in class when we do, we think that people will be like ‘what’s all that heavy breathing about?’, we don’t think it feels natural or normal, we think we will look silly, we don’t want people to notice.
Ok, you’re in a public space – I get that, I mean it’s nonsense because who cares what anyone else thinks, but I get that – I’ve been there.
So what about at home? Alone? In your room? How often do you go ‘I’m just going to lie down and breathe, I’m just going to have a sit down, put some music on, chill out and breathe, I’m just going to take a second to breathe before I send this angry text, I’m just going to breathe before I shout at my husband that has given me his opinion where it wasn’t wanted, I’m just going to pause and breathe before leaving the house today, I’m just gong to cancel this meeting because I haven’t got time to breathe right now’?
Hands up again: never, well not never, sometimes I am really good with this stuff – but I go through phases where it’s never.
I’m a yoga teacher and I forget.
And right now I feel like I am treading the water of life and I’m holding my breath just above the surface – but that’s just me. I’m going through some stuff right now, and I’ll plough through it, but I know I’m holding my breath because I’m waiting for something to happen – and I’m not sure I know what.
Again, I’m always honest, because why hide the truth? Truth is the second Niyama, and it comes after non-violence – it’s wrong for me to lie to you and bottle up how I feel.
So I’ll openly put my hands up and say: right now I am not giving myself enough time to breathe.
But thanks to the fact that I teach yoga, I can at least enjoy five minutes or so at the start of my classes breathing with you all.
You’re what’s keeping me going – so thanks.