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Breathing, Yoga and Physiotherapy

By October 22, 2019 No Comments

How Guided Breathing can Impact Your Rehab and Wellbeing

Take a deep breath; a full breath of air in, expanding the lower ribs and belly, and a slow, controlled sigh out. 

Let’s go back to basics

The breath is the most vital process of the body, the most immediate link between life and death. Consider a newborn’s first inhale, to the last exhale at the end of life; the breath is literally your companion throughout this journey. 

An adult breathes on average 12-16 times per minute, or 21,600 times per day. So, it would seem logical that we should strive to optimise our breathing function, right? 

Let’s first go back to basics to better understand your breath.

Most of your breaths will occur as part of an unconscious process in three phases: inhalation, exhalation and (the often forgotten phase) retention. You inhale air that comprises 21% oxygen, and exhale gaseous waste products including carbon dioxide. Gas exchange is the exchange of these gases as they cross the membranes between alveoli (tiny air sacs in your lungs) and capillaries (small blood vessels). The absence of the breath flowing in or out is retention, a transitional moment that, if held after the inhale, will increase the pressure in your lungs and therefore increase gas exchange.

Breath control techniques, or pranayama, affect the capacity and duration of any of the three phases of breath, to influence your physical, mental and emotional state.

How do I know if I’m not breathing optimally?

A dysfunctional breathing pattern is shallow, rapid and irregular. Movement occurs around the shoulders and upper chest, and the abdomen and lower ribs are relatively still. You may feel like there is resistance in the chest, hindering your ability to fully breathe in, or conversely, like you aren’t able to fully ‘let go’ of the breath as you breathe out. If you are really concentrating, or exerting yourself physically, maybe your response is to hold your breath. Yawning and sighing in absence of fatigue may also be an indication that you may benefit from deep breathing exercises.

A rapid and shallow breathing pattern deprives the brain and body of oxygen essential to good health. This dysfunctional breathing pattern is likely to correlate with reduced exercise tolerance, poor posture, higher levels of stress, lethargy, and lack of mental clarity. 

Why breathe better with Pranayama?

The most direct translation of the sanskrit term pranayama is “vital energy control”, or “breath control”. The benefits of pranayama are abundant and interrelated, and the variety of techniques achieve different outcomes, depending on whether you are targeting breath quality, duration or volume. Pranayama can maintain and improve your well-being in the following ways:

  • Increase physical energy levels and exercise tolerance
  • Boost mental alertness and concentration
  • Improve body awareness both in sustained postures and during movement
  • Enhance mindfulness or meditation practice by serving as the object of focus
  • Reduce tiredness and fatigue
  • Reduce stress and promote calmness and equanimity

Breath’s relationship with stress

You may have heard of the sympathetic “fight or flight” system – an automatic response of our nervous system to increase our heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate and many other functions. Daily life often poses stressors that consistently leave us in this sympathetic state, causing high levels of stress hormones in the body and making us feel anxious or out of control.

Your physical state and breath have a direct relationship, both automatic and controlled. You unconsciously breathe faster in a state of physical or mental stress, and slower when you finally relax at the end of a long day. Inversely, consciously slowing down and deepening the breath manifests a sense of calm, contentment and ease.  

Pranayama at Platinum

There are many pranayama techniques all suited to a specific time of day or physical, mental and emotional state of the individual. They might include simple breath observation, or focus purely on the exhale, the variations are endless.

 All clinical yoga classes at Platinum include a variety of breathing techniques to complement and enhance your physical well-being, both on and off the yoga mat. 

Our team at Platinum Physio are committed to optimise your well-being, and stepping onto the yoga mat and practicing breath techniques might be one of those strategies. If you have any questions, pop in to one of our clinics or give us a call on 8554 0111. Alternatively, you can book online.