exhaling for pleasure

Exhale for Pleasure, Strength and Freedom

 

Simon Borg-Olivier in Kulphasana: The Long Exhalation to Freedom (Photo Courtesy Donatella Parisini)

Simon Borg-Olivier in Kulphasana: The Long Exhalation to Freedom (Photo Courtesy Donatella Parisini)

In this short video below I discuss the seven main ways you can exhale and how by understanding and mastering these ways of exhalation you can stimulate the pleasure centres of your brain, improve core strength, save energy, reduce stress, make your spine more mobile and flexible, and massage your internal organs to improve the function of your digestive system, immune system and reproductive system.

The body can derive benefit from making passive minimal exhalations, which are seemingly effortless and help promote a calm restful state; and complete exhalations, which benefit the body by eliminating toxins from the body in the ‘stale’ air. The seven (7) main ways to exhale shown in this video and some of their applications are as follows:

 

1. Passive Abdominal Exhale
2. Passive Chest Exhale
3. Passive Postural Exhale
4. Active Postural Exhale
5. Forced Oblique Abdominal Exhale
6. Transverse Abdominis (TA) Exhale
7. Active Chest Exhale


1. Passive Abdominal Exhale:

Passive abdominal exhalation is the most natural type of exhalation but many adults don’t do it due to poor lifestyle choices and other reasons. Prolonged passive abdominal exhalation can help induce relaxation and meditation. The deep state of rest produced by sitting with quiet minimal breathing with passive abdominal exhalations triggers your brain to release neurotransmitters that have been linked to different aspects of happiness. These include dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins.

 

2. Passive Chest Exhale:

The expanded chest is like a coiled spring that holds tremendous potential energy. Once the art of expanding the chest for inhalation has been mastered then passive chest exhalations can be used to really slow the exhalation in the same way you can use a brake to slow a bicycle from going too fast down a hill.

 

3. Passive Postural Exhale:

The passive postural exhalation allows you to make deeper than normal exhalations without using any muscular effort and with minimal energy expenditure. For example, your body will naturally exhale more if you simply let your trunk bend forward onto your thighs.

 

4. Active Postural Exhale:

The active postural exhalation uses trunk postural muscles to move the body. It is natural spinal movements and the activation of these muscles that give strength and freedom to the spine, while deepening the exhalation. Yet no additional effort to actually exhale more than normal is required because the deeper exhalations happen by themselves through active movements and posture.

 

5. Forced Oblique Abdominal Exhale:

Using a forced oblique abdominal exhalation is a good way to constrict and massage the internal organs provided these muscles are released on the next inhalation. However, many people never fully relax these muscles, which can cause stress and internal organ dysfunction. In fact many people erroneously use these muscles to stabilse the trunk and spine. The main purpose of these muscles is to twist (rotate) the spine to the left side (using right external obliques and left internal obliques) or to the right side (using left external obliques and right internal obliques). Hence if these muscles are activated together the body can neither twist to left or right and it becomes progressively more stiff and immobile. Hence, if you want to twist to one side it is best not to use this type of exhalation and instead use one of the previous four types of exhalation or will restrict your movement. Additionally these muscles are the opposing muscles (antagonists) of the diaphragm and so when active will inhibit the diaphragm via reflex reciprocal relaxation. This tends to stimulate a ‘flight or fight response’ (sympathetic nervous system) and switches off the activities of the ‘relaxation response’ (parasympathetic nervous system), which include the digestive system, immune system and reproductive system.

 

6. Transverse Abdominis (TA) Exhale:

The transverse abdominis (TA) exhalations are some of most difficult exhalations to master for most people, but a probably the most useful to learn. The TA is highly regarded by physiotherapists as being a muscle you need to really be in control of if you wish to have a healthy lower back and healthy reproductive system. The two most useful TA exhalations are the ‘rolling’ exhalations in which upper or lower abdominal TA muscle fibres engage at different times one after the other. For this to be effective you need be able to draw the lower abdomen inwards without moving or hardening the upper abdomen and without lifting the chest. Only about 5-10% of the average adult population can do this without training, although it is quite natural for young children and standard practice in belly dancing. If the lower abdominal TA fibres become active first they will ‘squeeze’ the abdominal contents inwards and upwards, and move blood and intracellular fluids upwards. If the upper abdominal TA fibres become active first they will ‘squeeze’ the abdominal contents inwards and downwards and move blood and intracellular fluids downwards. These rolling TA exhalations (in conjunctions with chest breathing) are very important in moving blood through the valveless veins around the spine. If blood is not moved through these veins in some way it has been suggested as early as the 1930’s to be the cause of spinal tumours. This is also why cats and dogs stretch their spine one vertebra at a time to promote the same rolling effect in the spine to move blood.

 

7. Active Chest Exhale:

The active chest exhale is used to quickly and/or forcefully remove the air from your lungs. Once you learn how to voluntarily engage the intercostal muscles that do this you have mastered a compressive (ha) uddiyana bandha that can be used for tremendous strength and spinal protection. It was this type of uddiyana bandha that Sri K. Pattabhi Jois was asking his ashtanga vinyasa yoga students to maintain through most of their practice as it most easily facilities lifting the body into handstands and other arm balances and also protects the back during stressful postures.

 

Conclusion:

Once you understand and master these seven main types of exhalations you can practice using combinations of them to make very long slow relaxing exhalations or fast and powerful stimulating exhalations. Practicing long slow exhalations (especially with humming or very quiet ujjayi pranayama sounds) can really help to slow the heart, calm the nervous system and has been shown to increase levels of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is powerful neurotransmitter that enhances blood flow and promotes healing in the body. You can make really long (greater than 60 seconds) exhalations if you systematically use as little energy as possibly with the methods I describe here. To achieve this it is best to use the passive exhalation methods before using the active exhalation methods and to avoid using the stimulating exhalations such as (5) forced oblique abdominal exhale and (7) active chest exhale. Once you learn how to effectively master exhalation as part of your breathing exercises you can potentially control your energy levels, your moods, your strength, your flexibility and the health of your internal organs.

 

FURTHER STUDY:

If you wish to learn more about this subject please  consider doing one of our comprehensive online or live training courses on the ‘Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga’‘Essentials of Teacher Training: Yoga Fundamentals’, ‘Yoga Therapy as well as our Teacher Training course in India.

EDITED VIDEO TRANSCRIPT:

Please Note that in this video I amplify the sound of my exhalation using a microphone up my nostril.

“Hi Everyone, In this short video I am going to talk about exhalation, and the seven (7) main different ways you can perhaps bring an exhalation into your exercise or practice. “

 

Passive Exhalation:

“The first way that exhalation can take place is ‘elastic’. So elastic means the lungs just recoil the air out, and that can happen from the abdomen or the chest.

So if I breathe into my abdomen and I let the air out, the air goes out by itself.

If I let the air into the chest and then the air out, it goes out by itself.

It doesn’t require any muscular effort.

I will use this microphone and you will hear the difference of a breath out.

You will hear the air come out via the microphone at my nose.

I will breathe into my ‘tummy’ and I will let the air out [passive exhale sound].

So there was no muscular force in that.

It was the passive recoil of the chest and the passive recoil of the diaphragm and the abdomen in letting the air out.

There was no muscular effort.

This is the easiest way to let the air out.

If I fill up both ‘tummy’ and chest, first the chest exhales, then the ‘tummy’, and they are both passive.”

[Full inhalation into abdomen, then chest] [1. Passive Chest Exhale sound; 2. Passive Abdominal Exhale sound].

 

Passive Postural Exhalation:

“Another way you can exhale is a (3) ‘Passive Postural Exhale’.

So, if I just simply bend forward, for example, it doesn’t require any more than just falling with gravity.

See! My ‘tummy’ is soft.

When I passively exhale only part of my air comes out.

But if i make a postural passive exhale then more air comes out.

Watch!

[Full inhalation] [1. Passive Chest Exhale sound; 2. Passive Abdominal Exhale sound; 3. Passive Postural Exhale].

So … What you saw and heard then was when I bent forward even though my ‘tummy’ was soft – I wasn’t using any muscles – the act of bending forward made me exhale more. “

 

Active Postural Exhalation:

“Another type of exhale is (4) the ‘Active Postural Exhale’.

My posture will change, but it’s done using muscles.

I do that, for example, when I twist.

For example, you see my hand in my soft ‘tummy’ but as soon as I twist to the left side you see my tummy goes firm.

You see my fingers get pushed out (of my abdomen)  by the muscles as I turn (rotate my trunk).

That action of pushing the tummy into a firm state relative to its soft relaxed state will actually make the air go out.

So watch!

First I will do a passive exhale from the chest, then the abdomen – the first two types of exhale – both passive.

Then I will do a postural active exhale.

So it’s not consciously using exhale muscles, it’s using active postural muscles.

Watch and listen!

[Full inhalation] [1. Passive Chest Exhale sound; 2. Passive Abdominal Exhale sound; 4. Active Postural Exhale].

So as soon as I started to turn my exhalation continued but only because I turned.

Watch again and I will do it more with delineation

[Full inhalation] [1. Passive Chest Exhale sound; 2. Passive Abdominal Exhale sound; 4. Active Postural Exhale].

So you heard then, further exhalation took place by the fact that I turned.

It didn’t require any active exhalation muscles as such.”

 

Active Exhalation with Abdominal Oblique Muscles:

“Now, the exhalation muscles of the abdomen are transverse abdominis – the ‘belt muscle’ – and/or the external oblique or internal oblique muscles acting as a group.

I can exhale in a forced way from the abdomen like this

[Full inhalation] [5. Forced Abdominal Exhale sound].

You see the navel draws closer to my spine and you see the line of my external oblique muscle just there.

If I do the same thing while holding expansive uddiyana bandha [chest expansion] with my breath out you will see the muscles of forced exhalation and I will push my finger in to point when they come on [exhales, expands chest without breathing and then shows with hands the abdomen to be completely relaxed] [points to abdomen while activating (tensing) the muscles of forced abdominal exhalation to define the external oblique muscles seen here as diagonal lines from the outer ribs to just below the navel].

So what you perhaps saw then was I exhaled fully, I held my breath out, and having held my breath out I expanded my chest like breathing into the chest, but not breathing, and then I activated my muscles of forced abdominal exhalation which included the external oblique, which you saw visualised, and the internal obliques, which were not visualised.

Now, I can use the internal and external oblique muscles in a different way.

I can use my right ‘external’, where my hand is, and left ‘internal’, where my hand is, and I can actually turn my spine with those two muscles.

So that combination of external and internal obliques will make me twist.

But, if I use both internal and both external obliques together it actually tries to make me twist to both sides at the same time. It means I can’t move and the abdomen goes in. That’s a ‘Forced Abdominal Exhale’ (and this is what really makes the ‘navel move closer towards the spine’).”

 

Active Exhalation with Transverse Abdominis Muscles:

“Then, another type of exhale is just using the transverse abdominis. So, the transverse abdominis exhale can use just my lower abdomen like this [puts fingers into abdomen], but see my upper abdomen is soft.

Or, just my upper abdomen, like this [puts fingers into abdomen] but my lower abdomen is soft.

So I can exhale from the lower abdomen upwards like this [sound of sequential exhale using transverse abdominis from lower to upper abdomen].

Or I can exhale from the upper abdomen downwards using just transverse abdominis muscles like this [6a. Sound of sequential exhalation using transverse abdominis from upper to lower abdomen].

And I could include my chest muscles as well.

So I can breathe in and then breathe out from the bottom up like this [Full inhalation] [6b. sound of sequential exhale using transverse abdominis from lower to upper abdomen to chest].

That’s using mainly my exhalation muscles from the transverse abdominis – lower to upper – and then the chest exhalation.

Exhalation from the chest is usually passive [Full inhalation][1. Passive Chest Exhale sound] – just due to the passive recoil of the chest.

Or you can do an active exhale from the chest, which uses the muscles of forced exhalation from the chest, which you often use to cough, like this … [Full inhalation][7. Forced Chest Exhale sound] and that makes the rib cage quite firm. Rib cage firmness is another sort of uddiyana bandha.

That’s what we often use in postures like Lolasana or handstand to keep the rib cage in. Although in that case [i.e. Lolasana or handstand] the rib cage is usually held in with the rectus abdominis [the ‘six pack’ muscle].

Let me now demonstrate 5 main types of exhale at once. I will do a passive chest exhale, passive abdomen, a postural passive – by bending slightly forward – and then an active postural exhale by twisting with my muscles of twisting to the left, and then an active exhale using my oblique muscles and transverse abdominis. 

So, watch and listen! [Full inhalation][1. Passive Chest Exhale sound; 2. Passive Abdominal Exhale sound; 3. Passive Postural Exhale sound; 4. Active Postural Exhale sound; 5. Forced Abdominal Exhale sound].

Watch and listen again and I will make it a bit louder.

Full breath in to abdomen then chest [Full inhalation][1. Passive Chest Exhale sound; 2. Passive Abdominal Exhale sound; 3. Passive Postural Exhale sound; 4. Active Postural Exhale sound; 5. Forced Abdominal Exhale sound].

Watch and listen again and I will make it a bit louder.

Full breath in to abdomen then chest [Full inhalation][1. Passive Chest Exhale sound; 2. Passive Abdominal Exhale sound; 3. Passive Postural Exhale sound; 4. Active Postural Exhale sound; 5. Forced Abdominal Exhale sound].

Five different types of exhale!

I can also exhale from abdomen then chest, or chest then abdomen in sequence using transverse abdominis

[Full inhalation] [Sound of exhale from lower abdomen, upper abdomen then chest]

… or…

[Full inhalation] [Sound of exhale from chest, upper abdomen then lower abdomen].

Just for fun! Thank you.”

FURTHER STUDY:

If you wish to learn more about this subject please  consider doing one of our comprehensive online or live training courses on the ‘Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga’, ‘Essentials of Teacher Training: Yoga Fundamentals’, ‘Yoga Therapy as well as our Teacher Training course in India.

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