“If we could master breath, everything after that is going to be handled a bit better.”
That's a quote from James Newbury, an athlete who completed the entire 5-hour bike ride and 4-hour run of an Ironman race, breathing only through his nose.
“We’re going to live at a higher level.”
Living at a higher level sounds good.
Here is my nose:
Maybe you’ve been here:
Huffing and puffing through the first few poses in one of your first hot yoga classes, your face turning bright beet-red. The more you try to breathe, sucking air in through your mouth- the harder it seems to get.
From somewhere in the distance, you hear the instructor’s calm, encouraging voice:
“Close your mouth, breathe through your nose.”
You try it.
Nose breathing is the way
Many people have been taught or just naturally start breathing through their mouths while exercising, especially when it gets intense. But emerging research suggests nasal breathing (like we do for about 80 out of the 90 minutes in a Bikram Yoga class) is actually where it’s at.
That’s no big surprise for yoga practitioners, who have been harnessing the power of breath for centuries! (But we always love when science backs up what we do!)
Breathing by the nose helps athletes perform better
For example, this recent study looked at runners who used nasal breathing and found their maximum rate of oxygen consumption was unchanged compared to mouth breathing.
At the same time, their respiratory rates (breaths per minute) and ratios of oxygen intake to carbon dioxide output decreased, which means they didn’t have to work as hard to get the same amount of oxygen!
Researchers believe the lower breath rate caused by breathing through your nose (a much smaller opening for air than your gaping maw) allows more time for oxygen to get to the bloodstream.
That means you get more oxygen to your cells from each breath, which allows you to breathe less.
Wait a sec? Is breathing LESS a good thing?
Don’t worry: no one is telling you not to breathe. It’s about being efficient.
By breathing through your nose "you actually can perform your big physical tasks – running, cycling, things like that, you can perform them using less oxygen because you're not having to breathe as much to perform them,” says researcher George Dallam. “Which turns this not just into a health thing, but also into a performance thing too.”
Nose breathing helps with daily wellbeing too
I recently read a fascinating book called Breath, by James Nestor. In it Nestor “explores the million-year-long history of how the human species has lost the ability to breathe properly and why we’re suffering from a laundry list of maladies—snoring, sleep apnea, asthma, autoimmune disease, allergies—because of it.”
One thing Nestor did as part of this book was an experiment where he plugged his nose completely for 10 days, forcing himself to breathe only through his mouth. Spoiler alert: the results were disastrous!
Other spoiler alert: everything got better when he began breathing through his nose again.
Among other things, it turns out people who breathe primarily through their noses have:
Nasal breathing calms ya down
Breathing slowly through the nose is associated with the parasympathetic aspect of your nervous system, known as the “rest, digest and reproduce” state. (You probably know that one from yoga class!)
Breathing fast, through the mouth, or too much (hyperventilation) activates the sympathetic nervous system, putting you into a state of “fight, flight or freeze.” (You know that one from if you’ve ever been stressed out.)
That’s because nasal breathing activates the lower part of the lungs, which is associated with the parasympathetic nerves.
Oh hey, we made a video about that!
“You’re dealing with what is called a vagal response,” Dallam says. “You’re actually activating your vagal nerve to do the action of the lung itself when you breathe that way. That’s why a relaxation breath is a deeper breath. If you breathe deeply and activate the diaphragm well, and activate the lower portion of the lung, then you create some immediate relaxation.”
It ain't always easy, but it's worth it
As James Nestor and James Newbury found, breathing by the nose during physical exertion isn't necessarily easy.
The key, whether in a Bikram Yoga class or training for a triathlon, is to only challenge yourself as much as you can while maintaining nasal breathing. This means you may need to back off on intensity at first and be patient with the process.
(Helloooo, psychological benefits!)
When you breathe calmly through your nose, you take charge of your own nervous system
The more you practice, the better you'll get at nasal breathing and the more your health will improve as a result.
Don't take my word for it though! Try it in class today ;)
This week I was interviewed!
Liz asked me about the birth story of Home Hot Yoga, why I love St. Johns, what it's like to be a shut-down business during a global pandemic- and how the heck I expect people to do hot yoga in their bathrooms!
Check it out:
That sale I mentioned?
Since stay-at-home orders began, yoga students everywhere are rolling out their mats at home.
Doing yoga is a lifestyle choice that’s more important than ever to make! A regular yoga practice has been found to help strengthen your immune response, manage chronic pain, and both prevent and heal physical injuries by keeping your joints healthy and muscles strong. Yoga also helps improve many mental health issues including depression and anxiety.
Here are several common mistakes to avoid when practicing on your own:
Why you do it: If you take an online class with video, especially if you are a visual learner, you’ll be tempted to look up at your screen. That might be to check your alignment, check out that cute puppy crawling on your yoga buddy’s savasana, or see if your technology is working correctly.
- Practice yoga at home with live teachers using online apps like Zoom-- they’ll tell you if you’re way off, so you don’t have to strain to see yourself in your device.
- Listen to instructions and follow along carefully.
- If you need to check your tech, completely exit the pose first.
- Position your device where it’s easy to see while you practice.
Mistake: Pushing too hard
Why you do it: Overexerting yourself during a home Bikram Yoga routine is something to watch out for, especially if you’re an experienced student. If you’re used to being strong and flexible in the hot room, you may tend to push yourself at home. Remember that your intensity needs to account for the fact that you’re not as warm. Take it easy.
- Keep your breathing normal. Your breath is the best tool to measure if you’re overdoing it. You should be able to breathe calmly in and out by your nose throughout your practice. If you can’t breath normally, come out of the pose and find your normal breathing before you start again.
- If you are experiencing physical pain, move especially slowly and practice “gentle stretching without causing pain.” In fact, that is a really good mantra for an unheated practice in general!
Mistake: Getting kinda lazy
Why it happens: It can be challenging to stay motivated when you practice on your own. There are so many more distractions at your house than at the studio! And you don’t have the heat to demand that you focus on the present moment. You may find yourself “going through the motions” or even skipping the poses you don’t really enjoy. The problem with that is, the poses you dread the most are likely the ones you need the most! Bikram Yoga is a balanced full-body physical practice, and skipping the same poses repeatedly may aggravate asymmetries, tightness or injury.
- Try to practice with a live instructor as much as possible. You’re more likely to attempt all the postures with that supportive voice nudging you along.
- During a Zoom class, keep your camera on and positioned so your teacher can see you at a good angle in order to give you individual tips.
- If you have to practice without a live teacher, and you notice yourself slacking, consider finding an accountability partner. Check in weekly with “wins” from the week and goals for the week ahead. They don’t even have to be a yogi, but can be anyone working on being more consistent at a practice or routine. Tell them which poses you are dreading and commit to trying them when you practice that week.
Mistake: Allowing Interruptions
Why you do it: If you don’t architect an environment that supports your yoga practice, distractions will abound: kids, phone calls, Facebook notifications, pets, the list is endless! Without a reserved time and space for yoga, there is always something vying for your attention.
- Create an uninterrupted yoga sesh by planning ahead: set your phone to “do not disturb” and have a room where you can shut the door to interruptions.
- Practicing in the morning may help you minimize the chance that something will come up during the day that needs dealing with.
- Set out your yoga clothes and mat the night before you plan to practice, so it’s all ready to go.
- Decide on a separate space for yoga (if you can) or at least “rent” a space from your bedroom or bathroom which is only for yoga during your designated yoga-time. The area should be free of tech (beyond your device that you need for an online class) Keep all of your other devices in a different room and turned off while you practice.
- Even if you only have time for 2 sets of Pranayama, commit to doing it without stepping off your mat for the whole time.
Why you do it: When you’re not joining others in-person, it can be challenging to hold yourself accountable.
- Make a date with a friend to join a Zoom class together.
- Write your yoga practice into your weekly plan, whether in a paper planner or online calendar. Schedule it like you schedule an important work meeting-- because you are the most important person you can meet with!
- Accountability buddies (mentioned above) are great for keeping up your practice, too. They don’t even have to do yoga themselves, but can be anyone working on being more consistent at a practice or routine. Tell them how many times you plan to practice, and when.
- Be realistic about your goals. Finding the time to practice at home can be harder than when you get to leave your home! Remember that some yoga is better than no yoga, and every little bit of yoga counts. Commit to a regular schedule, valuing consistency over quantity. For example, if what you can do is 1 full class a week plus 1 session of Pranayama on another day, it’s better than practicing 5 days in a row then not doing anything for the next 3 months.
So, is it time to collapse on the couch with a bag of Cheesy Poofs and mope about not having an ab-roller?
Nah. It's time to do yoga.
In a recent American Psychiatric Association poll, 36% of Americans said the current pandemic has already had a serious impact on their mental health. The rate of coronavirus infection is still much lower than 36% of us, and we're taking that pretty seriously now. We need to take our mental health seriously, too. It is not going to get better on its own, and social distancing itself poses a threat to your mental health.
Look. Keeping your physical body healthy is important for sure. But taking care of your emotional stability and mental clarity is often put on the back burner during times of crisis-- which is actually when we need to keep our wits about us, the most!
Here are 4 major reasons you need yoga now more than ever:
When you practice yoga, you:
- Alleviate anxiety. Studies have shown that practicing yoga can reduce anxiety and lower your levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Check out this blog post for the story of one student who has stopped taking anxiety meds since starting her yoga practice!
- Decrease depression. There is a large body of research finding yoga to be an effective intervention for the treatment of depression. Bikram Yoga specifically has been found beneficial in improving depression and several other mental health symptoms.
- Sleep better. Studies have found practices like yoga and meditation have positive effects on melatonin and helps alleviate common causes of sleep problems like stress and anxiety. This is super relevant right now because many of us need better Zs! According to a PiplSay poll, 31% of Americans say they’re sleeping less due to coronavirus-related anxiety. And you know it's hard to be your best self when you're tired.
- Reduce inflammation. You've probably heard a lot about the popular physical benefits of yoga: flexibility, strength and balance. Of course, there are other activities you can do to keep your muscles strong, your joints healthy, and even be able to stand on one foot. Hatha yoga (practice of physical yoga postures) is unique in that it improves the function of every single system of your body, from the bones to the skin. One of the main ways hatha yoga helps all your organs function better is by helping to reduce inflammation, which researchers are finding more and more to be the root of all kinds of trouble. Know what increases inflammation? Chronic stress and anxiety. Lack of sleep and lack of movement. Poor nutrition.
There is no time like today to start creating benefits like these for your mind and body. And thanks to technology, accessing yoga instruction from the comfort of your home is easy. There are many options out there, many levels and many styles.
Home Hot Yoga's online classes are open to everyone, no experience necessary. Heat is not even necessary (though it helps!)
Are you ready to start a yoga practice? Join any of our online classes here.
Studio leader, yoga-doer and life-lover, Kay D.
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