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Breathe Through Your Nose

Every Centered Yoga retreat or training involves set times for Q&A periods with Paul Dallaghan. During this past year’s 2017/18 Christmas and New Year Retreat he was asked about why such a focus on nose breathing is emphasized. Here are the highlights of Paul’s response:

Six reasons (with huge pay-offs) to breathe through your nose

In yoga classes we are encouraged to keep our mouths closed, breathing only through the nose. Yet this is highly advised off the mat as well, and for several good reasons. The evolution of our systems to partially separate the passage of food and air is sophisticated and well studied. It distinguishes us from other primates in clear anatomical ways, and yet, Paul explained, it invites the tendency for people to lose track of the best, most efficient way to breathe – through the nose. Let’s explore that further, listing Paul’s point here:

1. The nose serves to filter the air that we breathe. Lined with millions of tiny cilia and mucous membranes, it is designed to catch bacteria, dirt and debris that would otherwise travel into the lungs.

2. Air temperature and humidity is also regulated by the nose. If you breathe in excessively cold and dry air, you can actually shock your system. “The internal shape of the nose is designed to make the air swirl—that moistens it and regulates the temperature.”

3. Breathing through the mouth is inherently shallow, almost sharp and thus has more of an aggressive effect on the nervous system. Nasal breathing triggers greater use of your diaphragm and thus invites a deeper breath and more oxygen into the system.

4. Even more amazing, and rarely considered, is that air drawn in the nose also passes through deep and wide chambers (sinuses) across the face and into the skull—two of which straddle the pituitary gland. This is quite possibly the closest you can get to “massaging” your pituitary, a major gland involved in the release of so many of the body’s functioning hormones affecting stress management, reproduction, and much more. These sinuses are highly charged membranous environments. Mouth breathing completely bypasses such an involvement and will leave you feeling heavier, less clear, more sluggish. The nose breather is calmer and more centered.

5. Cellular respiration, the metabolic process by which your cells produce energy using the oxygen you just breathed in, is directly impacted by the quality of your breath and to some degree by the quantity (oxygen volume) you have been able to breathe in. Therefore your breath is intimately linked to energy production and how you spend that energy. The cells of your heart, eyes and prefrontal cortex area of your brain have the highest level of mitochondria—as Paul termed “little batteries”, though in reality literally ancient bacteria that basically power the human body. Each of these little batteries is pumping out units of energy, or ATP. A single cortical neuron (brain nerve cell) utilizes an unbelievable approximate 4.7 billion ATPs per second in a resting human brain. In other words, you have some expensive machinery to run and so need to fuel it optimally. To breathe poorly (literally), which is through your mouth, is not only an energy loss but poorer performance for your brain, leading to an unfocused and less effective mind, and worse, because your mental energy is dispersed and diluted it leads to continued poorer breathing. “Mouth breathing is an expensive practice.”

6. In the Ayurvedic sense, shallow and inefficient mouth breathing causes your vata dosha to go off. You become prone to headaches, and your immune system becomes compromised, which opens you to a greater possibility of illness.

Summing it all up, Paul said:

“So mouth breathing is a lot shorter, sharper, and relies on the diaphragm less. It’s not filtering, not changing the temperature, not affecting the humidity. It’s compromising my immune system and switching on my sympathetic. It’s more energy wasting.

“You lose more heat, about 20 percent more, when you are breathing out of your mouth. When you are doing certain intense exercises if you are panting in and out of your mouth, it becomes very inefficient.

“You will find yourself calmer throughout the day having trained the breath to flow through the nose, but also as a practitioner your nasal breath amplifies the effects of your practice, both in pranayama and asana.”

Cited study:

1. 2012, Quantitative imaging of energy expenditure in human brain, Zhu et al.

Understanding Yoga & Fitness

If you have ever asked why do yoga and fitness? Isn’t my yoga my fitness anyway? What kind of workout goes well with yoga? How to do yoga to fit a workout? Or still don’t know why a longterm yoga practitioner would also embrace other workouts, then please read all, or part, of the following to get an understanding as to the genesis of YogaCoreCycle and how the bigger picture of yoga requires such activity, within moderation. I have gone deep into yoga practice and scientific research, understanding the subtle side of practice and our evolutionary history and how the body works, discussed it with experienced yogis and scientists, all convinced this is a positive step forward for people doing yoga-asana and those involved in fitness.

Nurture the spirit – take care of the body

I have been a dedicated yogi for many years. I recognize life and all its elements, needs of the body and mind. Yoga practice has been most helpful for this. I also appreciate music, food, knowledge, relationships, intimacy, conversation, entertainment and recreation, all the threads in the fabric of life. I avoid that which causes me or others harm, in body and mind, and embrace whatever makes complete sense. The practice of yoga is vital for life, nurturing of the spirit, but we cannot expect it to give all that the body needs. Yoga in a larger sense understands this and advises a combination of activities and guidance in how to perform them. In its original form, yoga-asana separated the workout from the asana. YogaCoreCycle embraces the various needs of the human body by offering a multi-modal program that separates out yoga-asana from cardio and functional fitness workouts, while offering them across a daily program.

Incomplete body-breath-mind development in modern yoga

I have taught yoga practice and the breath to more than 20,000 people over 20 years in many countries around the world. Over time I found many got stuck in a repetitive pattern of how to do asana, limiting the body’s development, were not connected to their core at all though often thinking they were, had not properly refined the breath, and would not really put in the time to sit, breathe, contemplate, look within, self-examine, considering the asana practice as yoga. Without the latter yoga practice is ineffective. Assuming yoga practice complete due to a long asana practice has led some to limit their growth in a yogic and meditative way, while also not fully taking care of the body.

Yoga is more than the physical practice

Yoga is an ancient and refined practice whose physical aspects have become an integral part of the thoroughly modern boutique fitness craze. The physical part of yoga is designed to refine and condition the body’s form and physiology. Those interested choose to live and practice it in different ways. In reality, more people relate to yoga as a physical form rather than its intended purpose as a fully integrated life system that, through internal processes, creates an understanding of who we really are. Body posture, termed as asana, is included within yoga practice and it has been developed as an extremely effective physiological and anatomical management form under Hatha yoga. It is only part of an overall process and, if to be effective within the greater purpose, needs to be done so breath and heartrate are managed. This produces a different body chemistry and physiological profile, in support of a meditative internal growth.

Yoga-asana is not a replacement for exercise

The human body needs different forms of care and stimulation, as our evolution has shown. Yoga and fitness experts have consistently found that asana is not a replacement for exercise. When yoga is undertaken solely for fitness purposes, much of its meaning and effect is lost. It is limited. Yoga does not provide the cardiovascular benefits of a full workout program, such as indoor cycling, and a repetitive asana practice can cause practitioners to lose touch with messages their bodies communicate. Though a physical asana practice, coupled with breathing, can do wonders for the body it is still not designed to push the heart and breath in a workout.

Both yoga-asana and exercise are needed for a healthy body

Changing the way the body moves, as in switching between a yoga-asana, a core, and a cycle class, helps to identify postural concerns, weak muscles, and other issues that may be preventing practitioners from fully performing the yoga poses or finding balance in their bodies. A fitness workout stimulates the nervous system one way that is beneficial, if not overdone, yet different to how yoga-asana affects the nerves and equally the body chemistry.

Exercise is one thing that is essential in people’s lives, yoga practice is another. In addition to that are the yogic practices of pranayama-breath and sitting-meditation. All together these cover the whole person – the body and the mind, the gross and the subtle, the worldly and the spiritual. Great health and wellbeing arises from addressing all needs of an individual.

Yoga-asana and exercise optimize how the body functions

As yoga-asana with breathing stimulates more the parasympathetic nervous system and massages a different hormonal and neurotransmitter profile into the blood stream, benefitting a clearer, calmer state for most of the day, exercise, whether more cardio or resistance-based strength work, is needed to engage the sympathetic in a healthy way, counter to stress-based sympathetic responses, and trigger a different chemical cocktail for a period of time through the body. This ebb and flow, yin and yang, alternated stimulation, optimizes how the body functions. Interestingly this aids the meditative process more due to its greater balancing effects and more robust neuro-physiological operation.

Manage body chemistry between core, cardio, and asana

Functional fitness integrates perfectly as part of any level of a yoga practitioner’s regular routine. It is especially important to build the Core, as that is the system of muscles that supports the entire body. Connecting with the physical Core builds endurance and efficiency, reducing the possibility of injuries. The movement part of an asana practice is ideal to incorporate Core work. The aim is to recruit as many muscles of the body as possible at one time to help strengthen, optimize fat burning, and develop real core support. Such full body strength work can then switch to a restorative phase, that asana can provide, so the chemicals released into the body to build strength and burn fat can now be removed from circulation and the body can have a repair and restore impact, opening body tissue, impacting lymph drainage, nurturing the nervous system, and improving the circulatory system.

Human evolution demands support of our core

The human body has evolved to its current bipedal form, with a unique big toe alignment, based purely on the fact that we Homo sapiens started to actively use our legs and walk everywhere, literally over this entire earth. The human S-shaped spinal column is a direct result of that development and, in consequence, the large muscles the legs use and the nerves off the lower part of the spine to the pelvis and legs. Though strength exists in the upper body too we are pathetically weak there compared to fellow primates but champion them with our legs. Our arms to hands to fingers instead have developed incredible technologies, from basic tools to today’s modern technology. However, this upright stance has led to challenges on the vertebral column support with many of the population suffering from back issues and internal organ ailments. Core support from the lower abdomen is essential for this support and health. A proper yoga asana practice identifies this but many reduce to flexibility exercises. Further core work is essential. Some activity at least a few days a week is needed for lymph stimulation as well as circulation and elimination stimulation.

Recent human history involved a mixture of work and activity

Until very recently, literally within the last decade, without the convenience of modern technology, we moved more and had to more manual activities. In older days a yoga practitioner would also have to walk for miles a day (BKS Iyengar would love to tell the story of how he had to walk 10 miles a day just to teach, on top of his asana practice – now that’s a “workout”), or climb hills if living in mountainous regions of India, or work in the fields given the majority of the population were agrarian.

Still a few questions?

Does yoga need cardio?

Does yoga need more core work?

Is Yoga a workout or not?

What about yoga tradition?

So, is yoga practice still evolving?

Yoga & Working Out

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Yoga & Working Out

Does yoga need cardio?

A yoga-asana practice is not a cardio workout regardless of breathwork incorporated into it. Yet the doing of cardio is beneficial in terms of one’s own overall health and fitness level. Thus, an additional focused functional aspect involving cardio is essential. Cycle at various speeds is one of the most optimal ways to include this. Moderation is key. We have up to two 30-minute cycle sessions a day. You may choose to do all of these or once every second day. Three times a week of shorter intense cardio, especially if not used to being active or older than 35, is a more healthy approach.

Does yoga need more core work?

Absolutely. Or rather your body needs more core work and original hatha yoga has highly emphasized the power of the core. Though a skillful practice of yoga asana will build the “core” region, a yogic core is one of primarily pelvic to spinal steadiness, very engaged work through the lower abdomen predominantly. It is often not quickly grasped by practitioners. To aid in the development of, and to add to, one’s core activity, a yoga practitioner can benefit greatly from core focused activity.

Is Yoga a workout or not?

Many practitioners approach yoga-asana under the banner of fitness but in terms of mere physical exercise, fitness and cardio benefits, yoga is much lower on the scale when compared to functional fitness and cycle activities. People practicing yoga can benefit from a short added period of increased activity that stimulates the metabolism, raising the heart rate and moving the body. Yoga, though also physically challenging at times, has a focus to balance nervous activity, teach integrity of posture, to encourage this through stamina development and holding of positions. Some positions are just too complex for the average person or too intricate to be added to a fitness routine, which current yoga approaches try to do. Traditional asana teaching highlights maintaining even breath, good heart rate, a subsequent autonomic nervous balance. Exercise and fitness promote the opposite. Both are good and both are needed. Here a practitioner can fully embrace and enjoy a workout with core and cardio activity while also benefitting tremendously from yoga asana practices that emphasize inner stability, balance, a supported body with freedom that is based on integrity of posture and mind.

What about yoga tradition?

Yoga tradition is not built on a physical set of practices, meaning an asana method. It is aiming to understand and then embody the principles of yoga which are part of the human experience in terms of our how we handle our relationships, how to manage the body and its metabolic processes, and to develop an attention on the internal aspects of life. Classical yoga tradition will define the nature of asana to be supported and free, done without irregular force yet a mind tuned to the breath and inner experience. This leaves open a myriad of ways to approach asana and how to sequence. Ironically, what is called traditional yoga today has actually grown out of hybrid influences from classical asana, European gymnastics, Indian traditional physical body methods, and even a good bit of early 20th century military style discipline. This is not tradition but just a passing method. Tradition honors the principles, which today we can say are understood and shown even scientifically as they endure across generations, but can still be adapted to changing social landscapes, both geopolitically and demographically. Tradition is based on intelligence not dogma. That intelligence is a clear mind and an open heart.

So, is yoga practice still evolving?

On a personal note, my life feels more balanced with a mixture of sitting, breathing, working on the body in asana, and getting a great functional fitness core strength and cardio workout. To engage in holistic activity for the whole person is not a luxury. It is a necessity. It is part of our living gracefully, aging well, and translates into our relationships and human interactions. No one has figured out how to optimally manage this human body in a whole life. Even with sagely advice and great gurus, it is all still a work-in-progress. Times are changing faster than any other period in known human history. Population levels are beyond anything previously experienced. We need to make some effort to get a handle on a life well lived, not just for the body, but for who we are in this world. One truth in the teaching is everything is in constant change. And so our approach to yoga practice must intelligently adapt to the needs of changing bodies, changing lifestyles, changing society, and even a degree of change in self-understanding.

This is why a full approach to body-mind-spirit is, and has to be, offered here. And what YogaCoreCycle is all about.

For a more detailed discussion around yoga and fitness please read the article Understand Yoga & Fitness

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