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Monday, May 18, 2009

Shut your mouth: Nasal Breathing is a snorting good choice

In Praise of Bikram Yoga

Having completed around twenty sessions of Bikram Yoga, what i love about this from of yoga is the solid, know where you stand, never to be changed, carefully thought out structure of twenty six postures (and two breathing :-)) exercises. From this solid base in my opinion those that are interested in self improvement and development will be challenged to look further outside of the class, to find answers to the many questions that practicing this yoga brings.

My Struggle to Breath (correctly)

One such question for me was centered around the correct way of breathing. Not sure when it happened but in between reading and practicing i have had a Clickadoodledastic (eureka) moment, which is the realisation that nasal breathing (both in and out) is indeed a mysterious secret, rarely spoken of in mainstream life, which isin fact the key to improved physical well being and hence life and should therefore be broadcast load and clear..

Now i don't know if it's just me or whether i am slow on the uptake but i have purchased pilates CD's, attended pilates classes, have purchased a manual from the enlightening and have generally been aware that getting to the bottom of correct breathing would be a very useful life enhancing thing to do. I have never been happy that i have cracked it despite meddling with different strategies over the last 2-3 years. My main thinking was that i needed to improve how my diaphragm works, which included exhaling much longer and more forcefully to empty my lungs of stale air. The focus was always on exhaling through the mouth and eventually getting a deep inhale through the nose. I felt this worked reasonably well for me when running and as part of my breathing recovery between sets of not quite 50 meter interval sprints when swimming (40 seconds sprint, 80 seconds recovery * 6).


My initial clickadoodledastic (might have been clickadicious as well) moment would have straddled the period from Thursday 23 April to Saturday 25 April. Earlier in the week my new found interest in yoga had naturally found its way into the consciousness of my work colleagues and on the back of this, one of my colleagues lent me a book on the principles behind Hatha Yoga, which is the yoga that underpins Bikram Yoga. In this book i read the unequivocal statement that made it plain that the best and most natural way to breath is in and out through the nose. Here is my paraphrased simple statement:
You and me were born to breath in and out through our noses. Our mouths are made for eating. Breathing in and out through the mouth is an emergency response to a distressing situation. Unfortunately because of the development of bad habits, most people have forgotten or are unaware of how to breathe correctly.
Following on from the reading of this book 'Hatha Yoga: The Yogi Philosophy Of Physical Well-Being' (for more information see on the Friday i grasped a quick chat with Libby the owner/teacher at Leicester Bikram Yoga (where i practice), who confirmed that nasal breathing (in and out) is the way to go during the bikram yoga sessions and in general including sporting situations like running. She also alluded to the fact that it helps with the flight/fight phenomenon to keep you more relaxed in stressful situations. I probably made a mental note that i need to investigate that one further and i have (but more of that later). The other question i still need to address is the use and purpose of mouth exhales in the two bikram yoga breathing exercises, as well as other hatha yoga breathing techniques.

Putting knowledge into practice


So from the excellent book mentioned above and some confirmation from the owner/teacher of my bikram yoga center i proceeded on the way home on the train to breathe solely in and out through the nose. Points to note were:

1. I did not inhale or exhale deeply, just gently

2. Their came a point after a short while where after breathing in i desperately felt the need to breathe out from my mouth as i did not seem to have the ability to breathe out through my nose (it was as though i had too much air to exhale and my nose could just not cope quickly enough with the need to exhale). I did somehow suppress the urge to exhale through my mouth and still managed to breathe in and out through my nose.

3. Eventually the pay off came by way off an absolutely wonderful chest expanding inhalation of my lungs from a nasal inhale which felt very satisfying and did indeed feel as though it was a deep breadth.

4. these deep inhales followed fairly frequently. Much quicker than any other technique i had tried in the past.

5. There are many benefits, but the major point is that you are getting more oxygen into your system and oxygen is life.

I do this anywhere i can now, when i remember. Also I breathe like this when going off to sleep. Hopefully i am not breathing with my mouth open in my sleep..


I followed this up on the Saturday morning with an hour long easy jog, where my aim was to breathe through my nose (in and out) for the duration of the session. Points to note were:

1. Initially (first 10-15 mins) breathing was a bit awkward, but doable - quite a number of natural deep inhales occurred just when i needed them.

2. After 15 mins started to have great difficulty breathing in through the nose, just felt blocked up (narrow passageways). Snot was accruing and my main technique to help clear my nasal passageways was to blow my nose into my shirt as i exhaled, this seemed to help, although shirt not too pleasant :-)

3. I did sneak in about 4 or 5 mouth breaths in, which was not too bad.

4. subsequently i have found that if i am struggling with the inhale, i just start exhaling vigorously through one nostril only (the other blocked closed with my finger) and alternate this exhaling on left and right nostrils until a natural inclination for a deep inhale occurs. (this seemed to work effectively)

There's more, There's more

After another shorter run or two, where i was still unsure if this was the right path to go down, i came across this excellent blog post The Importance of Nasal Breathing and this has given me extra conviction to pursue a nasal breathing policy (in and out) whilst doing sporting activities, such as running or weight training. Prior to reading the blog i had also completed a set of chin ups where by working to the rhythm of my breathing i pulled up on my nose inhale and lowered on my exhale. This felt very good. I felt that i was using the energy of my breath most effectively. With all my exercise now i am going to work to the rythm of my nasal breathing and i am hoping in the long term that a return to the natural way of breathing will bring about significant improvements in my overall fitness and conditioning. I have seen (felt) enough from my initial experiences to have confidence that significant improvements will be made. Getting back to the blog post the main messages were:

1. Confirmation that we are made to breath through our nose

2. Breathing through the mouth encourages the flight/fight response, which produces "adrenaline and cortisol which are both degenerative hormones. They contain waste products called free radicals, which are believed to be the leading cause of aging, cancer, disease and death. In addition, the body responds to this stress by Storing Fat and burning sugar. So if we can train our body to handle more stress without responding to it as an emergency (via nasal breathing), we’ll have taken a huge step in the fight against fat, aging and disease." (that's some motivation to breathe through the nose :-))

3. "Breathing through the nose stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which calms the mind and rejuvenates the body" (I have felt this calming effect when i was running.)

4. "Due to the need for longer, deeper breaths, one of the inherent results of nasal breathing is a slower breath rate. There is a direct correlation between breath rate and heart rate so that a slower breath rate will entrain a slower heart rate.... The end result being that during a race, you’d have more in your energy reserves to out-run your competitors!"

Have just completed a 45 minute spinning session using nasal breathing. It went well and i was not in control of the changes in pace, but coped ok with a few one nostril exhales. The amazing thing was when jogging back to work, without thinking about it i just used nasal breathing all the way back (5 minutes).

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