So many of us don’t breath as we were born (we have picked up less effective habits) and by doing so, we are missing a trick to a more energised life. By breathing diaphragmatically using ‘belly breath’ we can increase lung volume, oxygen intake and therefore increase energy levels.
Breathing is powered by the largest muscle in the body the diaphragm which is situated in a band underneath the ribs. As we inhale the muscle flattens and relaxes. This allows the lungs to maximise volume. By pushing out the belly on the inhale we give the stomach, liver, small intestine and large intestine more space and the lungs the greatest chance to bring in the maximum oxygen.
The lungs are like an upside down tree, the trachea (trunk) carries oxygen in. It then branches into two bronchi (branches) following on through bronchioles (smaller branches) until it reaches the alveoli (leaves). The alveoli if cut open and placed next to each other would cover the size of a tennis court, but the majority of us barely use this massive surface area. Many of us only use about a quarter of it.
By using a full yogic breath, starting with the inhalation and inflating the belly, the lower lungs, upper lungs right to the collar bone. We can inflate as many of these tiny alveoli to get as much oxygen into our blood as possible. There are also certain postures (asana) that can help to open up alveoli. Heart openers like cat/cow in a warm up, cobra and bridge can help oxygen regenerate dormant alveoli. While inversions like shoulder stand and down dog can help strengthen the intercostal muscles. There are also studies that suggest yoga pranayama and asana can help lung disorders like COPD and Asthma and Doctors are now recommending it as part of managing these conditions.
“Yoga and breathing exercises when used with medical management can significantly improve pulmonary function in patients with bronchial asthma” – A study by Sodhi et al (2009).
Oxygen is so important to us along with glucose (sugar) it is our ‘life force’. It travels on red blood cells to every cell in our body giving us the energy we need for all our daily activities. It is no wonder that if you only use a quarter lung volume you may be feeling fatigued. Society happily sees that glucose drinks provide energy (often being used as sports drinks for runners and other athletes) but the benefits of the free gift of controlled diaphragmatic breathing are less marketed.
Since really concentrating on my breathing. I have noticed the effects in my daily routine, feeling able to take longer deeper breaths and feeling more energised after these breaths. It has also massively helped with other sporting activities with a recent PB in my weekly park run and improved concentration and temperature control in my cricket and teaching.
I do not allocate specific time for pranayama daily like I do for asana and meditation I build the different breaths into my daily routines. When I wake up I take deep yogic breaths before I get up (normally around 5) before I get up and make myself breakfast. I use the ujjayi breath with my four daily sun salutations. On my walk or cycle to work I focus on breathing and I use it at any point in the day where I may feel start to feel stressed or anxious to calm me and give me confidence.