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Leading Yoga Gurus Distort Yoga Breathing Essence
By Artour Rakhimov
Yoga is an amazing ancient practice that can profoundly change health in the sick and mildly sick people. In the past, yoga masters and teachers were more successful in their treatment of various chronic conditions. However, these days, the benefits, due to modern yoga practice, are very limited. Only a small number of people are able to improve their health.
Breathing was the foundation of yoga, especially hatha yoga (which is considered as yoga for physical health). [Correct breathing has always been the essence of hatha yoga.]
There are several areas related to breathing which are misunderstood by modern yoga gurus and teachers, including Iyengar, Birkam Choudhury and thousands of other yoga practitioners and leaders. It is correct and in agreement with medical research that breathing at rest should be mainly diaphragmatic. However, breathing is about oxygen and carbon dioxide transport. Both these chemicals are required by body cells all the time. Hence, the essence of breathing is not in some breath work, but in an automatic or unconscious breathing pattern, which is going on constantly.
Ancient Sanscrit manuscripts on Hatha Yoga (the Gheranda Samhita, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and the Shiva Samhita) claim that the purpose of yoga breathing routines is to "hold", "restrain", "suspend", and "calm" the breath without any reference to expulsion of any toxins from the lungs. (Clearly, if one restrains or calms the breath, his or her body CO2 level increases). What about teaching of modern yoga leaders?
The confusion of modern yoga gurus (and their pupils and students) is evident in the following statements.
1. Modern yoga gurus suggest that in order to increase body oxygen levels, one should have maximum inhalations so that all areas of the lungs get fresh air supply. This is nonsense since with tiny normal breathing (500 ml for one breath), human arterial blood is almost completely (about 98-99%) saturated with oxygen.
2. Modern yoga gurus claim that CO2 (carbon dioxide) is a waste gas and, hence, it is good to expel it from the body cells. Hundreds of research articles have found that normal CO2 levels in the arterial blood and body cells is imperative for health. (We simply die in minutes if gets below 10-15 mm Hg.)
3. Yoga gurus assume that only breathing exercises matter, while our automatic or basal breathing patterns are not important or that our automatic pattern should deep in both senses (first, with the use of the diaphragm; second, with a large tidal volume for each breath)
4. They do not provide any specific parameters or numbers related to normal or ideal automatic breathing patterns at rest (normal and ideal respiratory frequency, normal and ideal minute ventilation, and so forth) for maximum body oxygen content.
5. They do not provide even the direction to go in relation to basal or automatic breathing. Should we breathe more air or less, faster or slower?
6. Most yoga leader and students assume that it is possible to have slow but deep (large) breathing. This is another fantasy since when people start to breathe slower, their breathing also becomes more shallow (reduced tidal volume or amount of air per one breath). Vice versa, when one's breathing pattern at rest is fast, it is automatically deep (large tidal ). (This is exactly what we can see in the sick and severely sick people: deep breathing 24/7.)
These topics are crucial since low body oxygen levels are in the foundation of chronic diseases (cancer, heart disease, asthma, COPD, and many others). Furthermore, one may do any breathing exercises for 1, 2 or even 3 hours every day, but it is more important how he or she breaths during remaining part of the day, especially during early morning hours since statistic of mortality indicates that the severely and critically ill people are most likely to die from 4 to 7 am due to severe disturbances in blood gases and cell oxygenation, regardless of the name of the disease and medical diagnosis.
Professional medical investigations related to automatic breathing patterns and CO2
There is a certain normal breathing pattern at rest that corresponds to 10-12 breaths per minute for respiratory frequency, 6 L/min for minute ventilation, 500-600 ml for tidal volume and about 40 mm Hg for arterial CO2 tension.
Breathing more than the metabolic needs of the human body is called hyperventilation. The average minute ventilation for modern "normal subjects" at rest, according to over 20 medical research articles, is about 11-12 L/min. (Note that 70-80 years ago it was about 4-5 L/min.) People with chronic diseases breathe even heavier.
Hyperventilation cannot improve blood oxygenation to any significant degree since our arterial blood is up to 98-99% saturated with oxygen during tiny normal breathing. Hence, the main biochemical effect of hyperventilation is excessive removal of CO2 leading to constriction of arteries and arterioles (CO2 is a powerful vasodilator) and the suppressed Bohr effect (less O2 is actually released within cells at reduced body CO2 levels). Consequently, the less we breathe (we are talking only about unconscious breathing), the more oxygen is provided for the body cells.
Additional established benefits associated with CO2 are: sedative or calmative influences on nerve cells, bronchodilation (dilation of airways), potent antioxidant capabilities (suppression of free radicals), powerful muscle tissue relaxant, ability to recover lungs and other tissues, regulator of numerous chemical reactions considering that life on Earth had been developing at quite high CO2 (up to 7-12% throughout development of very first lungs about 2-2.5 billions years ago).
Most of these discoveries were made many years ago by leading Soviet physiologist Dr. Konstantin Buteyko, MD, PhD, who was a devoted hatha yoga student. He presented this research to Moscow University scientists during his Lecture that was later published in the popular Soviet magazine "Science and life".
Yoga Benefits has numerous quotes from ancient Yoga manuscripts related to essence of yoga in relation to breath
Yoga Breathing provides Dr. Buteyko quotes related to yoga and his discovery of yoga secret of super health
Dr. Artour Rakhimov is a health educator. He is the author of books and the educational website NormalBreathing.com devoted to natural self-oxygenation and education. The website has hundreds of medical quotes, graphs, references, charts, tables, results of trials, analysis of techniques, free respiratory exercises, manuals, lifestyle modules and other resources for better cells oxygen levels and health. Normal Breathing defeats chronic diseases!
How can we bring yoga and meditation together? What are some of the techniques that work best for beginners to both meditation and yoga? What key elements of meditation techniques can be used in yoga?
The first meditation technique that comes to mind is mindfulness; paying attention to the task at hand. Precisely the problem for the scattered mind. Is this an impossible situation? How can key elements of this meditation technique work in a yoga practice? With other meditation techniques the power of concentration is essential.
Let's find simple ways to make the mind less noisy and more quiet, i.e. to make the mind meditative, using mindfulness and concentration in a yoga asana practice.
Beginners practicing a meditation technique that requires concentration, experience frustration as the mind wanders time and again in far away places. Yet this is exactly why you are here in practice. So yes there is the wandering; and "my mind is being trained" is a more helpful perception of what the practice is actually about.
Yoga Asana Practice
Bring this awareness that the mind is being trained into your yoga asana practice. That as well as training the body, there is training for the mind. Training happens through concentration. In fact, in Yoga's 8 limb program, called Ashtanga in Sanskrit, concentration (Dharana) comes before meditation (Dhyana).
What can we concentrate on and what can we be aware of when practicing poses?
1. The Breath
For example, you are practicing raising and lowering your legs from lying. Synchronize the movement with the breath. In fact go further than this. Let the breath surround the movement. Begin to inhale before you raise the leg and end the movement first, then the inhalation. Begin to exhale and then start lowering the leg. Let the leg come to rest on the floor and then end the exhalation. Keep the breath in your awareness.
2. Keeping Track by Counting
When do you end the leg raising and lowering? Is it based on the number of repetitions or on how you feel? Maybe it is both. In any event, count mentally when your legs come to rest, after you have completed the round. To increase concentration, practice in this way.
3. The Place of Stretch
We want to anchor our yoga practice in the body. Where is the mind? Is it looking around or judging yourself? Judging is in opposition to meditation. Bring awareness to the place where you feel the stretch. Let the mind be a humble Witness.
These interesting meditation techniques that can be practiced within yoga asana are: (1) a helpful perception that yoga postures train both body and mind; (2) to concentrate in a variety of ways; (3) to be a witness and avoid the role of the judge.
Proper breathing and breathing properly during yoga are two different and equally important things. The respiratory process is both a conscious and unconscious process. We can learn to breathe properly so that the thousands of breaths our bodies take during the day can support our health. And in our yoga practice, we can learn to breathe properly so that it supports the pose and practice.
In proper breathing, the front and sides of the body expand on the inhale, and then contract on the exhale. The diaphragm descends gently pressing the contents of the abdomen downwards to make room for the lungs to expand and receive the breath. Then it returns to its resting position on the exhalation. Expire and rest, draw in and activate.
Beginners usually have trouble remembering to breathe in and out while practicing yoga; are unclear whether to breathe in or out with a particular movement; and find it challenging to coordinate the movement with respiration. This subtle connection is what makes yoga yoga. It takes time to adjust to attending to the process.
In yoga respiration is important because of the life force inherent, the prana. Sometimes the breath is paused and held within the body, and sometimes the pause is after the exhalation and the breath is held outside of the body. Working with this subtle energy is a slow, careful process that begins with simple breath awareness.
Always breathe through the nose, both on the inhalation and exhalation, unless instructed to do otherwise
Inhale when the chest expands in the movement
Exhale when the lower abdomen contracts in the movement
Inhale and breathe in to chest first then abdomen
Exhale and breathe out from abdomen first
Never force or strain
Breathe evenly, relaxed, and rhythmically
(1) When lifting the arms the chest expands - inhale. When folding forward the abdomen contracts, exhale.
(2) Arching the upper back in cat the lower abdomen contracts - exhale. When lifting the sternum and expanding the chest in cat/cow - inhale.
(3) As you hold a pose, inhale chest first; exhale abdomen first. If you hold the pose in the extreme positions of cat/cow and cat, and inhale and exhale through the nose evenly in a relaxed rhythm.
Become familiar with your natural breathing process. Lie on your back and place one hand on the abdomen and one on the chest and connect with more than your breath. Connect with the life force.
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