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Pranayama Improves Your Lung Health

Have you ever taken the time to pay attention to your breathing? It’s not the most common thing to do since breathing happens automatically. But have you focused on how you breathe? Are you a shallow breather or do you take long deep breaths? Do you snore at night or even hold your breath unconsciously? These are some questions you can ask yourself when taking a closer look at how you breathe. But why even occupy your time paying attention to your inhales and exhales? Well, it is important to note that how you breathe can significantly affect your health. You might want to continue reading to learn a little more about how breathing is related to good health. 

Breathing Conditions 

Many things can affect your breathing. Anything from sinusitis when you have a cold, allergies when the spring flowers are in bloom, and asthma when triggered by bacteria and other viruses. Breathing problems can also occur from more chronic conditions like emphysema or bronchitis. Problems like this, of course, affect the lungs and can lead to even more serious health concerns like tuberculosis, pneumonia, lung diseases, and COVID-19. 

Remedies for Breathing Conditions: Yoga Breathing 

Whether you’re experiencing a winter cold with a runny nose and some congestion or you live with asthma, there are things you can do to keep your lungs strong. Certainly there are medical treatments you can turn to with the advice and monitoring from a physician. But there are things you can do on your own as complimentary treatments. One thing that act as an effective remedy is yoga breathing exercises. Yes, yoga not only helps with inflexible hips, but it can also serve to improve your breathing. Doing so can positively influence your lung capacity so when you have allergies or an asthma attack, you can be assured that your recovery is more efficient having practiced yoga breathing. 

What Is Yoga Breathing? 

You’re probably most familiar with the wide range of yoga poses you endure when taking a yoga class. But what is yoga breathing and how does it contribute to better health? Although yoga is an ancient practice, it continues to make it’s way into the mainstream. Because of the longevity of this philosophy, more research has been dedicated to this popular practice to understand why it is so effective. Scientific evidence now shows that yoga is quite beneficial to the practitioner. One area in particular where one will see the most studies is related to yoga breathing. It is called Pranayama. 

Pranayama: The Breath of Yoga 

Pranayama is a Sanskrit word meaning “breath control.” It can be considered the foundation of most yoga practices whether its moving through yoga sequences or sitting still in meditation. Conscious breathing, or paying full attention to the breath in yoga, is a way to keep the yogi centered and focused on the present moment. Specific breathing exercises, and there are many, are practiced in yoga styles like Vinyasa Yoga, Bikram Yoga, and Kundalini Yoga. Not only does breath keep you presently aware, studies have shown that it actually has respiratory health benefits since it is central to the workings of your lungs. 

A Brief Anatomy Lesson of the lungs 

When you breathe, air passes in and out of your lungs. The mechanism of breathing involves the diaphragm and the chest. When you inhale, your diaphragm and chest muscles contract; the diaphragm moves down and the ribs expand so that oxygen can fill the lungs. When you exhale, those muscles relax while carbon dioxide leaves the body. The proper exchange of gases between the lungs and blood take place in a normal breathing event. If your breathing is shallow and quick, which is often the case when you’re under stress, the gas exchange shifts causing symptoms like hyperventilation, dizziness, and anxiety. Over time, this imbalanced way of breathing can lead to a decline in health. 

As mentioned, breathing is an automatic, involuntary response of the body. Pranayama, on the contrary, is the voluntary control of your breath. Breathing slowly, for example, affects your autonomic nervous system which is the home base for your “fight or flight” stress response. When the stress mode is activated, your heart races, you sweat, your pupils dilate, your breathing quickens, and muscles tense up. Your body is ready to fight off (or flee from) the danger at hand. Chronic stress, which many of us experience even in the most benign situations, keeps the sympathetic nervous system on its toes. This may lead to more chronic health problems like heart and lung disease. 

The voluntary slow breath can retrain the chronic stress response. Slowing down the pace of the breath triggers the parasympathetic nervous system thereby calming your body and mind. Keeping this system in check can result in a reduction in hypertension, asthma, and other anxiety-provoked conditions. Engaging in something like Pranayama, can be a welcomed practice to keep your breathing stable and your overall mental and physical health in line. 

Pranayama Practices 

Here are a couple of widely practiced breathing exercises found in various styles of yoga. Try them to stimulate the calming nature of your autonomic nervous system and also as a way to condition your lungs. 

Ujjayi Pranayama 

This mode of breathing is commonly practiced in yoga classes involving lots of movement. Ujjayi  (oo-JAH-yee) Pranayama means “Victorious Breath.” It is a way of regulating a steady flow of breath while in motion. You are essentially breathing in and out of your nose, but the power of the breath effort comes from a slight restriction in your throat. It can be described as “oceanic breath” or “Darth Vader breathing” due to the sound created when breathing in this way. Because of the modulated breath work, you keep the steady flow of oxygen to and from your lungs and the constant exchange of gases and blood for a healthier heart. 

Nadi Shodhana 

This is another exercise that has a purifying effect on the body and mind. Coming from the Sanskrit, Nadi (NAH-dee) means “channel” or “flow.” Shodhana (SHO-dah-nah) means “purification.” In practice, it is alternate nostril breathing. This can be done in a resting state to bring more balance to your breathing as well as your body and mind. 

Gently block your right nostril using your right thumb. Take a slow inhale through your opened left nostril. Block the left nostril with your ring finger. (Ideally, you would hold your breath here for a few seconds.) Release your thumb from the right nostril and exhale the air slowly. Now, inhale similarly through the opened right nostril. Close it again with your thumb. Hold your breath briefly. Release the left nostril to breathe out. This is considered one full round in this exercise. Continue for several more breaths. When you’re done, take a moment to experience how you feel. 

You may notice with this balanced breath, and other Pranayama practices, a greater sense of calm. Know, too, that when practiced consistently, this will have a positive impact on regulating your mood. You’ll feel less stressed, your breathing will be more exhilarating, full, and rich, and your lungs and heart will work more efficiently. Pranayama provides adequate oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange for a much healthier body in the present and in the future. 

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