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Yogic breath in healthcare science

Our last article was about the pranayama. The yogic breath has been known and practiced for thousands of years in India. It was known for centuries as a way to reduce illnesses and prolong life. In recent years, many scientific studies have examined why and how breath control affects health.

This article will explore the benefits of the yogic breath in science. We'll explain the optimal breathing pattern, the diaphragm's roles, and the respiration's impacts on the different body systems.

Optimal breathing pattern

Our breath is an automatic function, which means we usually don't have to think about it. It happens automatically, without us noticing it most of the time. A typical breathing pattern for an adult is roughly between 12 to 20 breaths per minute. A breath over the rate of 20 per minute is considered abnormal and is categorized as hyperventilation, while a breathing pattern of 24 breaths per minute would be a sign of an underlying illness.

A breath is composed of two phases, inhalation and exhalation, separated by a short retention period.

The abdominal breath is recommended to use the diaphragm, the primary respiration muscle, correctly and efficiently. The abdominal breath observes a slight belly raise followed by an expansion of the thorax on inhalation and a releasing of the same on the exhale.


The role and anatomy of the diaphragm

As mentioned, the diaphragm is the main respiratory muscle. It is located in the torso and separates the chest from the abdomen. It is attached to fascia, muscles, tendons, bones, internal organs, and nerves. Because of those connections, it has an impact on the whole body.

The diaphragm muscle is connected to the throat (glottis and vocal cord) and the pelvic floor; all three move simultaneously when breathing. In yogic healthcare, we call those the three diaphragms (throat, diaphragm, and pelvic floor) because of their close relation to each other and their combined influence on health.

When used properly in yogic breath, the three diaphragms can positively affect health.


The benefits of yogic breath

The yogic breath is proven to have beneficial effects on hormonal regulation, mental health, cognition and attention, cardiopulmonary function, cardiovascular function, and pain management. It can also help manage asthma, esophageal reflux, dental or neck pain, and pelvic floor dysfunction. The impacts are body-wide because the diaphragm has connections pretty much everywhere.


Dental and neck pain

Neck and dental problems are usually caused by improper usage of the muscles. That creates tension and can cause neural issues, leading to pain. A problematic breathing pattern, where one would not breathe through the abdomen but rather through the chest, can make the neck muscles hyperactive and create neck and dental pain.

The proper use of the diaphragm in breathing can ensure an optimal function of the other respiratory muscles. The diaphragm is also connected with the trigeminal nerve and ligaments in the temporomandibular joint in the jaw. In good breathing patterns, these connections can help reduce pain.



Cardiopulmonary and cardiovascular function

The diaphragm is connected to the vagus nerve, one of the longest nerves in the human body, having a role in multiple system regulations. When we perform abdominal breathing, it stimulates the vagus nerve and slows down the heartbeat.

The connection of the diaphragm with the trigeminal nerve also reduces cardiac arrhythmia and blood pressure.

Digestion

The diaphragm is linked to the esophageal sphincter and the descending colon. Because of these connections, the abdominal breath can help normalize digestion and prevent gastric reflux.


Mental health

Respiration is one of the fastest and easiest ways to impact a person's mental health. The yogic breathing releases hormones which lower stress and increase the feeling of happiness. The vagus nerve, stimulated by the diaphragm movement, also has a significant calming effect and plays an essential role in stress regulation.

Many scientists and healthcare professionals now recommend using breathing exercises to help deal with stress, anger, depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Studies show that respiration combined with exercises, yoga, or meditation can significantly help with depression.


Reproductive, urological, and sexual impact

The pelvic floor's goal is to resist the augmentation of pressure in the abdominal cavity and contribute to bowel and bladder continence. It also contributes largely to reproductive and sexual function, especially in women's health.

The diaphragm and the pelvic floor share intimate connections. When looking on MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), we can see that the length and tension of the pelvic floor change proportionally during the proper use of the diaphragm. The pelvic floor and diaphragm muscles move together and influence each other.

The pelvic floor's impact on reproductive, urological, and sexual function is thus directly influenced by the proper use of the diaphragm in yogic breathing.


Pelvic dysfunction and back pain

Pelvic dysfunction and back pain are often due to a lack of stabilization of the spine and the lumbopelvic region.

The diaphragm is strongly connected with the thoracolumbar fascia and the core muscles (abdominal muscles and spine stabilizers) and participates in the stabilization of the spine. Learning to breathe through the belly thus increases stabilization and helps with general pelvic floor health and function.


Breathing assessment

Before proceeding to respiratory exercises for yoga therapy, a health-focused yoga teacher should process a breathing assessment and evaluate the person's breathing capacity and pattern.

It is essential to undergo these simple assessments to identify red flags for people with specific health conditions. Having a precise idea of the breathing capacity helps the teacher to quantify the improvements and to guide the practitioner in safe practice.


At Japam, we give yoga therapy classes for various health conditions. Those sessions are individual classes to ensure you have all the required attention. Our teachers have experience in yoga therapy and physical therapy, and it will be their pleasure to help you manage your condition with entirely adapted sessions.



Source: Medical Therapeutic Yoga, Ginger Garner.


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