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The Science of Breath –Benefits of The Full Yoga Breath
By Marit Griffith

This paper discusses the benefits, both physical and mental, that can be gained from developing the deep focused full yogic breath, or Raja Breath.

Deep focussed breathing makes the process of breathing a conscious activity.  The aim of such conscious regular breathing practice is to encourage full use of our lungs as we go about our daily activities and thus undo bad breathing habits we may have picked up over the years.

In the beginning it can be done at the start of a yoga class while in seated poses to encourage you to become composed and to focus on the present and their practice, at the end of practice while lying down to relax, and also during the practice of each posture as you master them.

Ultimately the goal is to breathe in this way naturally; when exercising, socialising, relaxing, etc. Therefore, it is a good idea to practice when sitting in the car, walking to an appointment, watching TV, etc, whenever you remember.
Deep focussed yoga breath involves even rhythmic breathing through the nostrils. 

On the inhalation:
1.    The lower lungs expand by contracting the diaphragm (causing the abdomen to expand) and the stomach moves out
2.    The intercostals muscle expands the rib cage to fill the middle parts of the lungs.
3.    The collarbones lift to fill the top part of the lungs.
On the exhalation, all the air is pushed out from the top to the bottom of the lungs, in the three stages, until all the air is fully exhaled and a sensation of pulling your stomach back to your spine is felt as your diaphragm lifts.

The Physical Benefits of The Full Yoga Breath:

  • Most people use the top part of the lungs to breathe. Deep focussed Yogic breathing uses the lungs fully, allowing the transfer of oxygen to take place within the alveoli (small air sac) throughout the whole of the lungs, therefore filling the body with a larger quantity of oxygen for each breath.
  • In the up-right position there is far more blood in the lower part of the lungs than the upper part, therefore learning to breath from the diaphragm allows the exchange of the oxygen into the blood at the lower part of the lungs to take place more efficiently.
  • The rhythmic breathing increases the return of oxygen-depleted blood (venous) to the lungs, and the more efficient exhale improves the lungs process the elimination of the waste products (mostly carbon dioxide) out of the blood.
  • Increased blood supply to the heart improves heart function. The more oxygen we breathe in the richer the oxygen supply to all parts of the body and our heart does not have to work as hard to pump the blood around the body, there by lowering blood pressure.
  • Increased oxygen supply helps the digestive process and nourishes the body.  It helps the body to break down food into energy for the body to use.  The cells in our blood absorb the nutrients and effectively transport it to all parts of our body.
  • The muscles, skin, and the organs generally work and repair more efficiently when there is more oxygenated blood supply to them.
  • The Mitochondria of the body use oxygen to create the physical energy that we use to move. Increased oxygen gives our body a more readily available supply of energy, and also results in the body not having to use other methods to create energy which can have side effects, like muscle burn.

The Mental Benefits of The Full Yogic Breath:

  • As our brain is supplied with oxygen rich blood, our minds can experience improved concentration and greater clarity of thought.
  • Deep focussed yoga breathing can help the mind to focus on clearing or observing the mind, and thereby facilitating meditation.
  • It helps us to gain conscious control and awareness of our breath.  We learn to consciously control our breathing, which is normally controlled by the more primitive and involuntary parts of the brain. This benefits us as our consciousness learns to tap into the unconscious processes of the body and mind – many of the so-called ‘miracles’ of Yoga (levitation, stopping the heart beat, etc) are attributed to control of the breath.
  • Rhythmic breathing helps us alter our emotional states. Allowing us to reduce stress, fear, upset and panic (fight and flight emotions/altering autonomic nervous system function).
  • Rhythmic breathing can also improve mental awareness of the physical body and facilitate control and co-ordination of movement.
  • The following of the breath can be a very efficient method of meditation.
  • "When the breath wanders, or is irregular, the mind is also unsteady, but when the breath is stills is the mindn, and the Yogi lives long. So one should restrain the breath” Hatha Yoga Pradipika
  • Breathing is a physical function that is both voluntary and involuntary, this means that we can control the breath, but there is also a subconscious reflex triggered by the need for oxygen in the body. This is considered to have very high significance in Yoga as it is considered that the breath is the key to control over the autonomic nervous system, the part of our functioning that we Westerners are taught lies outside our awareness and runs entirely unconsciously.

 ‘As we observe the way in which we use our breath, various unconscious breathing habits are identified and replaced with more beneficial ones. With increased awareness and control of the subtle aspects of breathing, these interventions can affect deep physical and psychological changes. Therefore opening up new avenues of being to the conscious mind, providing a powerful tool in the pursuit of truly holistic health and personal growth.’    

                        The Science of Breath: A practical guide