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Respiratory System, Breathing and Meditation

Entries in ujjayi breath (2)


Breath and meditation

Breathing brings me back to myself. It is the core of yoga. It is the way to stay present with my body, with my own intimate experience, and it is also the only way I can clear out my body's need to move and my mind's overthinking, to allow me to effectively meditate.

Breathing like a heartbeat

Breathing—smooth, even inhales and exhales through the nose, letting the breath move up and down through the back of the throat—is a necessary and inherent part of my Ashtanga yoga practice.

Being in the Mysore room, the breath of the group is louder than the music and there is no teacher voice leading. The breathing takes over the experience. It becomes like a heartbeat or like the metronome used in music. Ashtanga yoga breathing is called Ujjayi breath.

Full inhale, full exhale

The goal of yoga is to be at peace and grounded all day in life, not just in yoga. It's to train my body to breathe and be calm in any of life's situations. It's easy to breathe during yoga.

Often times during the day at home I'll check in with my breathing, especially if I'm agitated and realize I’m not really exhaling fully. I notice that I typically do quick sharp inhales and small exhales (enough to stay alive). Once I’m cognizant of this, I return to my soothing, even breath—grounding each inhale from the top of the head with a full exhale down to the base of my spine.



Ujjayi breathing in yoga calms the Nervous System too. Breathing that's involved in most other activities, such as hiking up a hill, exerts the breath in a way that allows more oxygen for the muscles and Respiratory System. In other words, breathing through the mouth is necessary to withstand most activities. In yoga, it's not necessary to open the mouth to breathe, as we bathe ourselves in the breath that circulates within us; there are resting yoga postures for exhaustion such as Balasana (Child's Pose).

Involuntary vs. voluntary breath

What happens to the Respiratory System when we are working beyond our capacity? Or when we are practicing Pranayama breathing, voluntarily holding our breath at top of inhale or bottom of exhale, or even holding our breath under water?

Typical breathing is under involuntary respiratory control but we have the capacity for voluntary control too. As the levels of carbon dioxide and hydrogen ions increase in bodily fluids, impulses from the respiratory center overcome the voluntary inhibition of breathing, forcing us to take a breath. Deep and rapid breathing is called hyperventilation. If this gets out of control, and fear enters, a panic attack could occur. Breathing is essential for our life.

Thirst and breath

Why do we get thirsty when exercising and out of breath? Muscle-building pulls water from the muscles and into the blood (like a pump) to maintain circulation. Staying hydrated is necessary. Drinking water replenishes us; thirst is not related to sweat or electrolytes. It would seem to be part of Respiratory System as it occurs when exhausted but it's the Muscular System.