Balanced breathing

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Some very useful contributions from students have added to our theme of balance and breathing.  In our classes we spend initial moments practising controlled breathing to free up the respiratory muscles so that our breathing can adapt to our movements.

In the core of the session, we practice movements noticing how the breath adapts – if it adapts, noticing any tendency to hold the breath etc.  Towards the end of a session we try (I keep trying) to make time for pranayama in order settle the body for a period of calm followed by relaxation.

We allocate time to breathing but I wonder whether we notice how we breathe?

A link shared by a student outlined the benefits of yoga breathing for IBS sufferers (Balance 2017)   The author Vicki Turner Vicki Turner describes fast breathing as being a modern malaise:

..In the 1920s anatomy texts cited that the average adult took 8-10 breaths per minute, but today even the most relaxed of us take about 12 breaths per minute and that range rises to 25 breaths per minute for the highly strung corporate raider….

I can’t find stats for the 1920s but The Buteyko Breathing website  (Can yoga can provide positive results for asthma sufferers?)   defines fast breathing as 12 breaths per minute.  I am unsure how the respiratory rate is being measured for stressed corporate employees but states that anyone with a respiratory rate of 24 breaths per minutes should be monitored closely (indeed!).

In fast breathing – the average adult breathes 12 times a minute with about 350ml of air while resting (i.e. sitting or standing).  Breathing affects the vagus nerve and vagal tone,  which stimulates the heart.  Fast breathing generates a demand for more blood and oxygen in the body, this increases heart rate which is controlled by the autonomic nervous system.   A longer exhalation generally calms us – it reduces this demand upon the system and slows the heart rate

Vicki Turner writes about Coherent Breathing in which she practices taking 6 breaths per minute – breathing in for 5 and out for 5.  The goal of coherent breathing is coordinating your breathing rate with your heart rate so that the pumping action of the heart and the pumping action of the breath work in sync and not against each other as can happen with uncoordinated stressful breathing.  In his amusing Book Teach Us To Sit Still: A Sceptic’s Guide to Health and Healing, Tim Parks explores many medical “prescriptions” for pelvic pain.  He eventually finds relief through breathing exercises which leads him to take up meditation.  His problem seems to stem from tension held in the body, in his case, in the pelvis.  He describes his first experience of “letting go”:

Suddenly my belly drew a huge breath, absolutely unexpected, and a great warm wave flooded down my body….. 

What, in God’s name was that?

The feeling had vanished at once. It was gone.  But so too, I realized now, was the pain… p163

Stress reduction can help with a number of gasto-intestinal issues.  Acid reflux is caused by the backward flow of acid from the stomach into the oesphagus.  There appears to be a correlation between stress and the amount of acid the stomach produces.  Drinking extra water with meals might help to reduce stomach acid.  Belly breathing in semi-supine is very beneficial since it enables us to breathe out very fully whilst fully relaxing the body.  Kapalbhati breathing also seems to help with  acid reflux symptoms.

Kapalbhati is quite an advanced breathing practice which requires patience and perception.  The short, sharp exhales rely upon muscular effort and pelvic floor activation.  Initially,  it is best practised at a slow pace rather than in the “puffing train” way that some advocate.  If kapalbhati breathing is forced, the body will tense and you may feel your upper moving unevenly. In a more relaxed approach,  there is no unnecessary strain put upon the system.  Thus:

  • reduce the count.
  • support your upright posture by sitting against a wall or a sofa.
  • do not over-arch the back which will create tension in the diaphragm.
  • try to feel the pelvic floor working in co-operation with the diaphragm as you practice the exhalations.
  • breathing through the nose helps me to better control the movement through the navel area.
  • gently pump the belly on the exhale and let the inhale happen passively – for as long as it takes to have a satisfying breath.  Don’t force it.
  • try just a few exhales at first and take smooth even breaths in between any practices.
  • don’t over do it.

Returning to IBS, the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, has developed a new 6 week Mindfulness course tailored specifically for participants with IBS.  The course is at the trial stage and findings are expected late in 2017.

Lastly, laughter is beneficial in providing longer exhalations and helping with gaseous exchange.  The following is one of the oddest things that I have seen in recent times – it should, perhaps come with a health warning – but it may make you laugh.

One thought on “Balanced breathing

  1. Hi Liz – hope you are feeling better ………   thank you for this all very interesting.  I watched the laughter Yogi – PLEASE don’t introduce this in the class, I really didn’t like it! so false and very American. see you wednesday Alison 


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