“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 ;)
Over the summer we published this blog post discussing existing research on heat and humidity in relation to COVID-19. (Hint: it was good news for Bikram Yogis!)
A new study came out this month which has even more to say on the subject. Where back in May, scientists observed that areas with higher temps and humidity experienced less spread of COVID, the recent findings suggest it's not quite that simple.
Wait... can we still do Bikram Yoga??
Before I dive in any deeper, I'd like to point out that in no way am I claiming that being in our yoga room will guarantee that you do not catch the novel coronavirus. The truth is that any time you leave your home or are around other people, you are at some risk of catching COVID. This post is addressing the scientific findings that some environments pose more risk than others.
Here is what the science says:
"Our research shows that the viability of coronavirus is higher at low air temperature values below or equal to 75 F (25°C) and at high relative humidity values greater than or equal to 65%," says Prof. Dimitris Drikakis, one of the new study's authors.
"Therefore, countries with the above weather conditions or indoor places with the above environmental conditions (at those conditions) are more at risk."
Check out this chart (circle added for reference) from the study showing the concentration of airborne contaminated droplets:
The study found there was less risk of catching COVID at temperatures above 75 and humidity below 65%.
Hooray: that's US! (See the red circle on the image above.)
We keep our hot room at a perfectly sweet spot for sweating: 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Celsius) with 40-60% humidity (In most classes, especially now with our limited capacity, humidity actually remains between 40-50%.)
Scientists now understand that how well COVID spreads in the air is due to a combination of factors which include not only heat and humidity but also (when outdoors) wind and (when indoors) ventilation.
For indoor spaces, proper ventilation is advised, as well as the use of air purification systems to help reduce concentration levels of any contagions in the air.
Here at Home we've always been fans of good air quality.
Yogis who've practiced in stuffier hot studios often remark at how much better they breathe in our room! That's in part because of our Demand Control Ventilation system.
The DCV maintains indoor air quality by automatically adjusting the amount of outside air coming into the hot room when the CO2 reaches a specific level.
In order to further increase the flow of outside air in keeping with current recommendations, this setting is currently at “0” which means we are bringing in the maximum amount of outside air (around 50%) during class. The air which is recycled is constantly cleaned by the iWave air purification system.
"We should also avoid places of low temperature," says Drikakis.
We've been saying that for years! ;)
Check out this post for a rundown of the many benefits of heat for all kinds of reasons. And read this if you have any concerns about "handling" the heat. Most importantly, join us in Home's hot room: we're here 7 days a week.
Click here to book your class!
Did you know that using heat for healing is old-school?
Far from being a fad, heat therapy has been used in many cultures (as far back as ancient Egypt) as a medical treatment for a variety of aches and pains? Makes sense if you think about it, since an increase in temperature to an area of the body promotes circulation and blood flow there. And blood is how each part of your amazing body receives the nutrients it craves, and removes the waste it needs gone
What heat does:
Heat relaxes tense muscles and (by improving circulation) helps heal damaged tissue, ease soreness and relieve joint pain caused by arthritis or just being a stiff dude. Heat therapy can be "dry heat" like using a heating pad or sitting in a sauna, or "moist heat" like soaking in a hot spring or applying steamed towels. At 105 degrees and 40% humidity (your clothes basically become steamed towels!) our hot room environment here at Home is kind of... both.
Heat has even been found to be an effective treatment for depression!
This area of research is relatively new, but already this study has even looked specifically at using heated yoga to treat depression and anxiety and (surprise surprise!) it works. Bonus: no crummy side effects like other anti-depressants.
There's lots of evidence exposure to warm temperatures can elevate your mood. Scientists have observed that brain areas which process pleasant stimulation activate when the skin is warmed. Activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex for example is low in depression, but it’s increased by warm stimulation.
While being in the heat helps us feel happier, doing yoga poses in the heat also provides an added challenge to the mind, and through that challenge hot yogis cultivate the oh-so-practical mental qualities of Faith, Self Discipline, Concentration, Determination and Patience!
Athletes use heat training for improved endurance.
A rapid increase in the volume of blood's plasma when it's hot seems to boost performance in athletes! It does so by helping move excess heat out to the skin and cool you off, among other things. The jury's still out on whether heat training helps improve endurance in regular temperatures, but... concentration and determination definitely do.
Heat may also keep you saf(er)
Check out this blog post here for what science has found about the effects of heat and humidity on COVID-19 transmission rates. (Hint: it's good news for Bikram yogis!)
A blacksmith doesn't try to take a piece of iron and change its shape by just pounding away at it cold. You have to heat it up first! In the same way, we're trying to change (improve!) both both body and mind when we practice yoga. Keeping toasty helps you do it!
Ready to try? Book your next heat therapy- I mean, hot yoga- sesh here.
Your exercise routine has most likely been turned on its head in the last few weeks. Gyms and yoga studios around the world have shut their doors indefinitely, and even many parks and trails are closed.
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.
Starting a yoga routine at this time will not only help you stay in shape-- it will also help you cope better with stress and keep your anxiety levels under control. The best part is, there's no equipment required for yoga! You can do it at home. All you need is a spine and your breath. (Some expert instruction is highly recommended though!)
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:
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.
What duds you sport in the hot room can really make a difference.
Watch this video to learn the science behind shorty shorts, then read on for 4 tips to consider when choosing what to wear to your next class...
1. Bare skin is part of your body's cooling strategy.
Your body cools itself by way of the evaporation of sweat off your skin's surface. Therefore, the more of your skin exposed to the air, the cooler you will feel, even in a hot environment.
For the same reason you probably wear tank tops and shorts in the summer, clothes that leave (at least) your arms and legs uncovered are the healthiest choice for hot yoga.
2. Loose clothing traps body heat.
Ever tried sleeping in a hammock? You'll get COLD at night because the hammock's fabric sits snug against your skin. There's no space to trap your body heat in there.
Similarly, when you wear tight-fitting clothing in hot yoga, your body heat escapes, which means you will feel cooler.
3. Downsize your yoga clothes to super-size body positivity.
Look, we get it. Your whole life you have been sent the message (from the media, peers who are not your real friends, possibly even your parents) that your body is somehow flawed or not good enough.
Too many of us have accepted that messaging to the point that we try to hide our "imperfect" bodies-- even from ourselves!
You may have discovered by now: there is no hiding under the bright lights of the yoga room. You also may have noticed: you are the only one in class who bats an eye about the size of your thighs or a little hanging skin around your middle from those babies you brought into the world! So, who are you hiding from?
Revealing your body to yourself in the mirror for 90 minutes at a time will cause you to appreciate your body more-- not only for its physical beauty (and yes it has that!) but also for the amazing things it does for you every day as it carries you through your life.
4. Don't miss out on the gift of a teacher.
Your certified Bikram yoga teachers are highly trained and constantly honing our craft with continuing education. Of the gifts your teacher offers you are personalized verbal corrections.
We have had hundreds of hours of education (and thousands of hours of experience) in this yoga system, and you get to borrow our eyes!
However, we can only let you know to make an adjustment in a posture IF we can see your alignment! Baggy clothes get in the way of us helping you use correct technique.
You are the most important person in your life.
In the end, of course, this is all up to you. We understand there may be many reasons for every choice of attire.
Just like when we give instructions in class: our role here is to offer the information we know to be useful for practicing Bikram yoga, and you get to choose what you do with that.
Your Bikram yoga teacher will love you unconditionally, no matter what you wear to class!
Science says multi-tasking makes your efforts less effective.
We're always telling you to stare at stuff in class, aren't we? Your knee in the mirror or your stomach or 4 feet on the floor in front of you.
A single point of focus is a tool you get to use not only for balancing, but also to quiet your "monkey mind" which likes to swing from thing to thing (mine sometimes even screeches or bites!)
With our phones and cars (not to mention kids, if you have them!) so many of us are almost always multi-tasking. Bad news, because it turns out multi-tasking is really ineffective and may actually hurt your brain.
The good news is, your yoga practice can help you hone the skill of focusing on Just. One. Thing.
Studies show that the more you practice mindful concentration, the better you'll get! For example, the results of a pair of studies in "Frontiers in Human Neuroscience" suggest that "brief meditation impacts attention even in novice practitioners."
Try in class: commit to tuning in to each present moment your main objective for one session. Notice how you feel afterwards. Then try it on a stressful day at work or when there's just a ton to do around the house: Pick one thing, focus on it.
Focus one point, eyes open and breathing normal. We have a feeling you'll feel better! But let us know how it goes in the comments below!
HHY Founder, Yoga Business Coach, yoga-doer and life-lover, Kay Afif!