The ultimate state of pranayama (yogic breath-control) and meditation is a state where breathing is reduced as much as possible without force.
However this is a process that can for most people take a life time.
In order to work towards the mastery of yoga it is sometimes useful to breathe more than normal (hyperventilation) but eventually the aim to be able to comfortable live and practice while breathing less than normal (hypoventilation).
With mastery over your breathing you can help to improve your cardiovascular health, respiratory muscle function, physical strength, mental control, emotional stability, levels of hunger, your ability to digest food, your energy levels, your reproductive health and well as your ability to regenerate body tissues at a cellular level.
In yoga and life breathing may guided or controlled for seven (8) main reasons. These are:
Pranayama (yogic breath-control) is the art of learning how to breathe less than normal (hypoventilation). Although sometimes fast, deep and/or complete breaths have benefits, the less you breathe overall the better your mental capacity is and the greater is the blood flow to nourish the brain and the heart. The haemoglobin also transfers oxygen more efficiently to all the cells of the body (the Bohr effect). Many studies on meditation have shown that focus and concentration are better when you breathe less! Additionally, the nervous system is much calmer when you breathe less and this is reflected in a reduced desire to eat.
Breath-control is also useful on a mental level. Any type of focus on your breathing can help you concentrate but the nervous system works best if you breathe less than normal.
Breath-control works on the cardiovascular and circulatory system. You can enhance the movement of energy and information through your subtle channels and enhance the movement of blood and heat through your blood vessels by breathing differentially from your abdomen (diaphragmatic breathing) or from your chest (thoracic breathing). You can also bring more blood and oxygen to the brain and heart and less blood and oxygen to the arms and legs by breathing less than normal (hypoventilation). Conversely, you can bring less blood and oxygen to brain and heart and more blood and oxygen to the arms and legs by breathing more than normal (hyperventilation).
A brief summary a selection of the the different possible effects of breathing is shown below.
- Mobilising the spine
- deep inhalation or deep exhalation can enhance either spinal flexion (bending your spine more forward) or enhance spinal extension (bending your spine more backwards) depending on whether the breathing is focused on the posterior (rear) or the anterior (front) of the trunk
- Stabilising the spine
- the muscles of breathing out (especially from the chest) can make your spine more stable and help relieve lower back pain
- Strengthening the spine and body
- the diaphragm (the main muscle of inhalation) can be used as powerful strength muscle
- Inhalation retention with the use of trunk muscle coactivation (bandhas) can help to manipulate the spinal vertebra and relieve pain in the neck upper back and/or lower back
- Control of the autonomic (automatic) nervous system via the diaphragm which can be controlled either by the conscious mind (somatic) or unconscious mind (autonomic)
- Reciprocal relaxation of the muscles of abdominal exhalation (which include many of the muscles that can tend to over-tense and contribute to lower back pain) by the main muscle of inhalation (the diaphragm)
- Focus on any type of breathing can help with concentration
- Reduced breathing (hypoventilation) leaves the body slightly more acidic (with carbonic acid), which gives the physiological effect of calming the nervous system and the mind in general
- Slow abdominal (diaphragmatic) breathing tends to enhance parasympathetic control of relaxation response with ahimsa (non-violence) and/or love and peace and happiness as dominant emotions
- Faster chest (thoracic) breathing tends to enhance sympathetic control of ‘flight or fight’ response with tapas (passion to do your best) and/or fear anger and aggression as dominant emotions
- deep breathing with the abdomen relax (which can be diaphragmatic and/or thoracic provided the abdomen is relaxed) causes an increase in blood flow
- with this type of breathing heart rate increases on inhalation as does blood pressure
- heart rate decreases and blood pressure decreases on exhalation
- this type of breathing causes increased pressure into the abdomen on inhalation and decreased pressure on exhalation that increases blood flow and nervous system stimulation to the abdominal organs
- diaphragmatic (abdominal) inhalations can help to reciprocally relax the muscles that cause forced abdominal exhalation and simultaneously immobilise the lower trunk and prevent the natural massaging of the digestive organs with spinal movements
- diaphragmatic (abdominal) inhalations can help to bring flood to the digestive system that helps with the absorption of nutrients from your food
- thoracic (chest) inhalations can (if done without needing to inhibit the diaphragm with the muscles of forced abdominal exhalation) relieve prolapse of internal organs that can prevent complete evacuation of the bowels
- sequential abdominal exhalation using only the transverse abdominis fibres (not the oblique fibres) can help to promote peristalsis in in the intestines
- diaphragmatic (abdominal) inhalations can help to reciprocally relax the muscles that cause forced abdominal exhalation and simultaneously immobilise the lower trunk and prevent the natural massaging of the reproductive organs with spinal movements
- diaphragmatic (abdominal) inhalations can help to stimulate a better balance of the autonomic nervous system that can prevent proper fertility cycles (e.g. menstrual cycles in woman)
- diaphragmatic (abdominal) inhalations can also can help to reciprocally relax the muscles that cause forced abdominal exhalation that can harder the abdominal region and prevent the menstrual flow
- thoracic (chest) inhalations can (if done without needing to inhibit the diaphragm with the muscles of forced abdominal exhalation) relieve prolapse of internal organs that may be putting pressure on the bladder and the fallopian tubes that can prevent evacuation of the bladder and also prevent the release of eggs from the fallopian tubes that can result in extended periods of infertility
- sequential abdominal exhalation using only the transverse abdominis fibres (not the oblique fibres) can help to promote massaging of both male and female reproductive glands
- Reduced breathing (hypoventilation) for
- Calmer nerves
- Increased oxygenation and blood flow to brain and heart
- Increased flow of air in the bronchial tubes to the lungs, which can help to relieve breathing difficulties and asthma
- Reduced hunger, and decreasing appetite for people needed to eat less or reduce weight
- Increased breathing (hyperventilation) for
- Stimulation of nerves
- increased mobility of the synovial fluid that lubricates joints and also lies between layers of muscles and between nerves and their sheaths that can help improve the functioning of joints, muscles and nerves
- Decreased oxygenation and blood flow to brain and heart
- Increased hunger and promoting appetite, which may be good for people who need to eat more
- Inhalation retention (antara kumbhaka) with the use of trunk muscle coactivation (bandhas) can cause an increased partial pressure of oxygen in the body that can give the recorded benefits, which include increased immunity, of hyperbaric oxygen therapy
- Deep slow inhalations or inhalation retention (kumbhaka) with movements of the spine can also cause an increased partial pressure of oxygen in the body that can give the recorded benefits, which include increased immunity, of hyperbaric oxygen therapy
- Exhalation retention (bhaya kumbhaka) and prolonged inhalation retention (antara kumbhaka) and even very slow breathing or deep meditation can induce enough hypoventilation and a resultant drop in pH (increased acidity) that has been shown to induce the production of stem cells and other factors that can be paramount to the healing responses of the immune system and the process of tissue regeneration that is the long sought secret that some call ‘the fountain of youth’
You can learn much about the breathing and its relation to yoga and exercise by joining our online course on the ‘Applied anatomy and physiology of yoga’ by going to
You can also learn more and get a very practical experience of breathing and its relation to yoga and exercise by joining our online course on the ‘Teacher Training Essentials: Yoga Fundamentals’ by going to
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