Sitting at a desk, hanging out at home, running errands, mowing the lawn—we humans take about 20,000 breaths per day.
Breathing passively, we exchange about 10 percent of the air in our lungs with each breath. That’s not exactly super fueling the muscles or brain, which both need oxygen to work. But by using yoga breathing, you can increase the amount of new air you have available with each breath from 10 percent to 40 percent in two ways: by increasing the volume of air you inhale and by training your body to absorb oxygen better.
“When you train your respiratory system to have more capacity, to exchange more air, and to absorb more oxygen, you’re actually training your diaphragm,” explains Christine Hoar, Ayurvedic practitioner and founder of Ashtanga Montauk. “Lungs are an organ, not a muscle—the diaphragm is the muscle that supports breathing.”
1. Breathe through your nose, not your mouth, and you stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. This means you can inflate your lungs to full capacity while you remain in a relaxed state. Mouth breathing activates the adrenals and fight-or-flight response, which restricts breathing to the upper lobes of your lungs.
2. Do diaphragm pushups. Lie flat on your back with a 10-pound weight on your belly. Breathe in and out through your nose in a 1:2 ratio. Breathe in for four counts, out for eight counts, for two minutes.
3. When you exercise, inhale and exhale through your nose to an even count. Increase your effort. When you default to mouth breathing, back off your pace or the incline and return to nose breathing. This will strengthen your lungs and increase VO2, your ability to assimilate oxygen.
4. Do you take longer inhales or exhales? Take note, then even it out using an exercise yogis call Sama Vritti Pranayama. Breathe in for four, hold your inhale, breathe out for four, then hold your lungs empty for four. Do five reps increasing the count to five, six, seven, eight and back down the ladder. NOTE: Don’t hold your breath if you have high blood pressure, glaucoma, recent brain injury or abdominal surgery.
5. A tight ribcage acts like a vice on your heart and lungs. Stretch the intercostal muscles between your ribs to free up space. Breathe in for four, then pause. Without exhaling, breathe in again. You’ll find you still have space for air. Repeat throughout the day.
6. For more breathing exercises, refer to John Douillard’s Body, Mind, and Sport.
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