Breathing exercises, that utilize long, full, slow breaths (LFSB), provide benefits that enhance the gains obtained from conventional, western exercise. LFSB, as is encouraged through the practice of yoga, tai chi or meditation, allows for maximum oxygenation of the blood and the ensuing, corresponding development and exhalation of carbon dioxide. During exercise, the actions of skeletal muscles, and associated physiological processes, require that fresh oxygen (O2) constantly replace carbon dioxide (CO2) in the lungs. O2 supplies fuel for the bodily processes that supply energy.
Some of the benefits of LFSB include:
- Slows the heart rate – the heart rate slows when the parasympatheric nervous system is operating.
- Full diaphragmatic breathing increases the ratio of O2:CO2. Normal inhalations result in a 1:1 ratio. Full diaphragmatic inhalations create a 5:1 ratio. Thus, more O2 can be absorbed into the blood.
- Normalizes blood CO2 levels – full exhalations facilitate CO2 build up in the blood. This triggers and facilitates maximal uptake of O2 from the following inhalation.
- Reduces blood pressure – Dilation of venous-blood vessels decreases venous-blood pressure. This allows a slower heart rate and more efficient blood flow/O2 transfer.
- Reduces stress – Breathing deep, full inhalations and exhalations, synchronizes CO2/O2 blood levels and produces a natural autonomic relaxing effect.
- Increases the health of lung tissue – The lungs are completely expanded and contracted during deep breathing. This maintains the elasticity of the lungs, especially as we age.
Conventional exercise (Running, Tennis, Basketball, Weightlifting, Gymnastics, Aerobics) focuses on developing (1) the external muscles and (2) the body’s ability to make O2 consistently available in the presence of an O2 debt. In a totally complementary manner, LFSB exercises help develop the ability to fully expand the lungs, which is beneficial for maximal absorption of O2 into the lungs and into the body and contract the lungs, which exhausts CO2 from the lungs and increases blood CO2 concentration. LFSB exercises also provide a natural massage for the internal organs which has a beneficial and rejuvenating effect on the physical, physiological and psychological processes. This can greatly benefit the vigorous exerciser.
LFSB training is a methodology. It can shift the autonomic nervous system away from fight or flight (sympathetic) mode into a more relaxed state (parasympathetic). LFSB inhalations and exhalations have ‘been shown to positively affect immune function, hypertension, asthma, autonomic nervous system imbalances, and psychological or stress-related disorders‘ (Jerath et al., 2006). Jerath and colleagues add that investigations, regarding stress and psychological improvements, support evidence that deep, full breathing alters the brain’s information processing, making it an intervention that improves a person’s psychological profile.
LFSB exercises can enhance the benefits gained from vigorous exercise. The physical aspect of western exercise is good for muscle strengthening and development of aerobic capacity. LFSB practice benefits the body on the physical, physiological and psychological levels. Studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of LFSB. Breathing to finish that mile run is good; breathing fully to assist the body in processing O2 more efficiently will provide long lasting effects throughout one,s life.
Some techniques that can be employed to develop one’s LFSB capacity is to breath full inhalations and full exhalations at a rate of 4 breaths per minute. As one’s ability improves, the rate can go to 3 breaths per minute, then 2 breaths per minute, and then one breath per minute. This practice should not exceed a period of 15 minutes and should be done no more than twice per day.
Please consult your physician before attempting any of these practices.
Yoga and Health, Yesudian and Haich, Harper and Row; pg 67