Have you ever been so busy that you couldn’t even catch your breath?  We all have at one time or another and the reason for it is that we all tend to chronically chest-breathe.  Chest breathing is usually something that we aren’t even conscious of, which is one of the reasons why many of us suffer from high blood pressure, panic attacks and adrenal fatigue.  The mechanism for this is as follows: shallow breathing causes buildup of CO2 in the blood which increases the blood’s acidity, the drop in blood pH signals the brain, which, in turn, then signals for an increase in respiration rate.   But it doesn’t stop there.  When breathing patterns become habitual, they also lead to elevated heart rate and blood pressure, as well as increased adrenal activity in order to prepare you to run from the lion that wants to eat you while on safari (no not the Apple search engine) or that unreasonable boss you have that overworks you.  Stress from other sources also plays a major part in helping you develop a habitual hyperventilating state.  Sickness also increases your respiratory rate as the following chart shows:

Normal O2 consumption: 6 litres/min

Asthmatic O2 consumption: 14 l/min

Heart disease O2 consumption: 14 l/min

Diabetes O2 consumption: 10-20 l/min

COPD O2 consumption: 12 l/min

Pranayama is a yoga breathing exercise that helps you to consciously take control of the breath and fully inflate the lungs with the help of the abdomen.  A little experiment to try is to lie down, place your hands on your belly and notice its movement.  When we are lying down and face up, we automatically revert to abdominal breathing (this is how to avert a panic attack).  Babies do it all the time, but as we get older, we unfortunately teach ourselves how not to and begin taking those shallow chest breaths. A simple pranayama to start with is to:

  1. Sit up straight on a chair by sitting on the edge
  2. Close your eyes and place your hands in your lap
  3. Allow your belly to expand on the inhalation completely to a count of 4s
  4. Completely contract and deflate the belly on exhalation to a count of 4s

Do about 5 complete breaths in one cycle.  The more cycles you do per day, the greater your lung capacity will become and the better you will feel.  In addition, your blood pressure, heart rate variability and stress hormone levels will decrease.  In ancient India, scholars used to say that a life only has a certain number of breaths.  Therefore control of the length of the breath or Pranayama was developed in an effort to lengthen life.  It is ironic how in our high-tech age of obsession with longevity, we are more and more finding solace and relief in the practices of the low-tech past.

Further Reading: Light on Pranayama by B.K.S. Iyengar ISBN:0824506863

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