In the beginning as we emerged from our mother’s womb, shrunk-wrapped lungs heaved into functionality as we came into contact with air when they inflated with blood. Our life on the Earth plane is a dance of breathing, experience and how it affects us physically, mentally and emotionally.
The value of recognizing that we have volitional control of our breath means that we can have volitional control of how we react or respond to life and circumstances. Breathing is the only autonomic vital function we can voluntarily control.
When we react to life, sensory receptors in the respiratory system send signals via the vagus nerve to the brainstem and activate the sympathetic nervous system — the one we need when we see the tiger and need to get away. When we respond, the parasympathetic system activates, and we can deal calmly with any situation. Our respiratory system is located at the medulla oblongata at the brainstem and is responsible for the rhythm of respiration and adjusting this in homeostatic response to physiological changes. The regulation process, which we can absolutely have control of, is stimulated by levels of O2, CO2 and pH levels, and any hormonal changes from stress and anxiety.
If we can learn how to inhale fully, the diaphragm can increase in range of motion and massage directly or indirectly the stomach, liver, pancreas, liver, intestines and kidneys, along with promoting improved flow in intestines, blood and lymphatic system. Not a bad result from breathing consciously.
Studies on people suffering with fibromyalgia have shown that slow, deep breathing is related to a decrease in perceived pain and depressive symptoms and disorders with compensatory breathing patterns, which are common in diabetes and heart disease. As the heart and lungs work closely together to meet our body’s need for oxygen, we need to keep both of these areas working efficiently to avoid critical illness.
The International Association of Yoga Therapy states that “Yoga Therapy is a form of treatment to practice meditation, breathwork and poses with the goals of improving mental and physical health in a holistic way and that Yoga can help patients improve heath outcomes and health conditions through introspective awareness.”
Once again, the onus is on the individual and them making the right choices to improve their own life with the tools that yoga can offer.
Yoga Therapy is rooted in an ancient 8-limbed yoga system where breath is the intermediary between body and cognition. Prana is a concept that modern science has to catch up with, but it animates the body with lifeforce. Oxygen alone is not enough to sustain life. Prana is in all things, and disruption in the flow of prana actually causes disease. Prana governs the respiratory system and is mostly drawn in via the sense organs.
Specific Pranayama (breathing) practices can help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and strengthen and help to decarbonize blood. Research is discovering that slow, deep breathing along with yoga poses and chanting may actually have a neuroprotective effect against whole brain age-related grey matter. This is welcoming news for people who fear a reduction in the quality of life with aging.
I love sharing the practices of yoga with people and am really excited about people taking their practice or even beginning a practice in the water as their body ages. It is difficult to get people to change their breathing patterns on land, especially if they have a condition that is affecting the way they breathe. In the water, however, one of the many benefits is that the hydrostatic pressure assists exhale, and this is vital in making conscious changes. The water environment is also very supportive, so people tend to relax quicker and can get on with the task at hand, especially if the water is warm.
If people can not get to a pool for some reason, embracing a conscious breathing practice can be done for a few minutes each day under the shower or in a nice warm bath or listening to the sound of water in nature to cultivate a sense of relaxation needed to change old breathing habits.