The Why Behind Mindful Breathing During Yoga and Meditation

Breath is an important part of a successful yoga or meditation practice

Anyone who has done a yoga class or video or practiced meditation probably has probably experienced that sense of calm and lightness afterward.

Have you ever thought about why? The stretches and poses that are done during a yoga class can definitely contribute to feeling more limber and energized after a class, but there’s another big component to yoga that really makes it beneficial for the whole body… breathing!

Yoga coordinates movements and poses with breathing while meditation usually involves sitting or lying quietly as you focus on your breath and thoughts. Hopefully, if you have tried either type of exercise you have experienced the benefits that mindful breathing can have on your body, but have you ever wondered what is going on in your body to produce these feel-good effects?

A Quick Biology Lesson

To understand how breathing can have such a big impact on the body you have to understand a few things about anatomy and physiology. Don’t let your eyes glaze over just yet, I promise this will be painless!

There is a part of our nervous system called the autonomic nervous system that controls automatic functions inside of our body like heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, bowel and bladder function, etc. The autonomic nervous system is split into two parts: The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is activated during stress leading to things like increased heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. The parasympathetic nervous system is active at restul times to decrease heart rate, respiration and blood pressure, and increase digestion. Unfortunately, a lot of us lead fairly stressful lives trying to balance things like work, family, chores, dinner, oh yeah don’t forget to call to make that appointment, my sister’s birthday is tomorrow I need to get a present, when is the last time I got an oil change?…you get my drift! So this keeps us stuck in a sympathetic state which means that we aren’t taking nice deep breaths.

When we don’t take deep breaths using our diaphragm we aren’t taking in as much oxygen or exhaling as much carbon dioxide as we should. The working tissues of the body need oxygen to be able to perform their essential bodily functions and they produce carbon dioxide as a waste product. That carbon dioxide then gets offloaded into the bloodstream to be delivered to the lungs and then exhaled as we breathe. If we are taking shallow breaths then we aren’t getting rid of as much carbon dioxide from the blood which means we don’t have as much carrying capacity for the oxygen which is fueling our body. This cycle will keep up stuck in a sympathetic state, but there is GOOD NEWS! This can be quickly reversed by doing some deep breathing such as what you do during yoga and meditation. Taking deep breaths offloads more carbon dioxide allowing our body to take in more oxygen for our working body. These deep breaths also help us to use the diaphragm more fully which can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system directly.

So hopefully by now you’ve taken at least a couple of nice deep breaths while reading this article and are feeling the amazing effects that mindful breathing can have on our body!

Pair it with movement like during yoga or mindfulness like during meditation and you are on your way to a more healthy, calm, and relaxed you!

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