Breath: The holy grail of living well

My favourite line when it comes to breath and asana (postures) is:

“The breath is the first-order principle of yoga. Everything else is secondary.”

You may ask ‘How can one simple thing, like breathing, be so important?’ Hell, most of us don’t even think about our breath: it’s so convenient, that is happens automatically – this is why it is part of what we call the ‘autonomous nervous system’.

Now, the early yogis didn’t know about blood pressure, adrenaline, the amygdala (the centre of our fear responses) or dopamine (the ‘feel good’ hormone, often associated with the number of ‘likes’ your post gets on IG or FB 😉); however, they knew about the basic survival functions and what happens when they are threatened and the associated physiology.

And they asked the question: What IF we could, just for a little while, change how we breathe? Change how we think? And change how we move? Would it affect other parts of our being? Would it make us feel better? And most importantly, would it make us better human beings?

What they discovered was short of revolutionary:

By changing the way they breathed (only through the nose), the duration (slower than normal) and the quality of the breath cycle (focusing on the slight pause between the inhale and exhale) they discovered profound mental, emotional and physical changes:

Positive effects on digestion, the way their heart beat, strength and endurance were coupled with calmness and clarity of mind. What was happening??

Much of what occurs when we breathe consciously, as in yoga, can be explained with its effect on Heart Rate Variability (or HRV):

HRV is the measurement of the difference in heart rate between the inhale and exhale. That’s right! The heart rate changes (speeds up) when we breathe in and slows down when we breathe out. At least, that is what should happen. A healthy HRV signals that the two parts of the autonomous nervous system, the parasympathetic and the sympathetic, are working equally well.

However, with chronic low-level stress being a constant in our lives, a lot of people have an overactive sympathetic (the active, running, thinking, doing, fighting) nervous system and their parasympathetic nervous system (recovering, sleeping well, digesting, resting) is low or turned off. Hence, why there are so much digestive, cardiovascular and sleep problems associated with stress. Plus, have you ever wondered why you are not getting stronger or better in your physical pursuits? Maybe your body is not getting the quality recovery it needs to build new muscle tissue.

Now, what do we need to do to kick our parasympathetic nervous system back into gear?

You guessed it: by paying greater attention to your breath. In fact, there is a very defined breath cycle that has been shown to equalize both nervous systems and bring the HRV into its ideal range: it’s the 5-6 second rule. That’s exactly what we do in some of Evelyn’s classes when we breathe in accordance to the sound. The sound is tuned to a 5-6 second breath cycle and by learning how to slow the breathing down to that count, you do what the earliest yogis did: They became healthier, more resilient, calmer and a bit more detached from the BS happening in their lives.

My teacher Noah Mckenna has created the wonderful sounds (called “Resonance Frequency Breathing”) in various frequency, so you can find the one frequency that works best for you. You can get them free from Soundcloud

or simply come to one of Evelyn’s Restorative Movement or Yin 2 classes – and feel the difference!

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