Now a days, if you live in a city; the answer is no. Have you noticed how pure the air you breathe feels in the countryside or by the sea? It is quite different to the air we are used to breathing in the city. Of the city air we breathe in, only about 30% is oxygen. Oxygen makes up 80% of our bodies so it is extremely important. Not only does it lift your mood, but it is needed in every aspect of your body’s functioning, including the nervous system, to keep you healthy. How can we city-dwellers get more oxygen? Here are a few of our options:
HBO (Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy) can help, during which you breathe about 90% pure oxygen and this is good for everyone!
Learn to breathe correctly – most of us use only a third of our lungs’ capacity when breathing. A good way to improve your breathing is by doing exercise such as swimming where you need to breathe harder. Practicing yoga and meditation will also help you learn to breathe correctly, as well as de-stressing you in the process.
Pranayama breathing practices can teach you to breathe correctly. We should inhale through our nostrils, expanding our belly and then chest and then exhale with the mouth, as our chest and belly relax. Exhalation should last twice as long as inhalation – but this should not be forced, and will be perfected with pranayama breathing exercises. The body has been breathing wrongly for too long to just change it suddenly. It is a gradual yet extremely worthwhile process. I have started practicing these breathing exercises during yoga first thing in the morning.
According to Stancak A jr, alternating breathing through the left and right nostril can influence our brain activity. Wood C. Mood wrote that we can also use such exercises to make ourselves feel more alert, enthusiastic and to improve our overall mood.
“Breathing through the left nostril stimulates the right brain hemisphere and intensifies the functions of the parasympathetic nervous system. This is connected with a slowing-down of the heart rate and consequently greater stroke volume of the heart (greater amount of blood is pressed out of the heart per beat, as a consequence of lower heart rate)”
“Breathing through the right nostril stimulates the left brain hemisphere and the sympathetic nervous system. This results in accelerated heart rate, higher blood pressure, greater consumption of oxygen by the body cells and constriction of the blood vessels of the skin, thus preserving body temperature (which explains how some yogis can be totally oblivious to extreme weather conditions).”
The benefits of breathing correctly are overwhelmingly important, a few of which are:
Strengthening of the heart and lungs, through quicker blood flow towards them
Strengthening of the nervous system and supplying it with more oxygen
Increased brain function and clarity
Significant reduction of the quantity of free radicals in the system
Reducing the number of asthma attacks in asthmatics as well as reducing the dosage of anti-asthmatic drugs needed
Lowering the intensity of shortness of breath in chronic bronchitis
Adapt better to cold and heat
Once we have mastered Pranayama we can move onto Kumbhaka which involves holding your breath. It has been discovered that, when practiced correctly, Kumbhaka can reduce the body’s metabolic processes and thus its oxygen consumption. With this practice we can influence the parasympathetic nervous system lowering both heart rate and blood pressure. (Bhargava R, Gogate MG, Mascarenhas JF.)
Now that I am practicing pranayama with yoga, am I enjoying the yoga postures so much more. I find it helps to imagine I am breathing in sea air, it reminds me of la Manzanilla, a Mexican beach I used to wake up and do yoga on, bliss! I inhale and exhale as the sea ebbs and flows. I also keep finding myself breathing properly during the day – unconsciously. It just feels better. I am so sure that it is doing me good. So come on people, let’s get breathing correctly!
I often find myself daydreaming about la Manzanilla…