Fitness Magazine

How Yoga Affects Breathing

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Baxter

How Yoga Affects Breathing

Jellies by Melina Meza

As I was reading an interview in my latest yogauonline.com newsletter with physician and yoga therapist Loren Fishman, MD and his collaborator Ellen Saltonstall called Can Yoga Preserve Freedom of Movement? (hell, yeah!), a short statement from Dr. Fishman about how physical movement and the breath are connected caught my eye:
“…something that is really very poorly recognized in the medical or the yoga literature: that moving your joints is one of the strongest stimuli to breathing properly and deeply. There are little movement receptors inside all of our joints, and they send signals that go directly and indirectly to the apneustic center, one of the centers in the brain that regulate breathing.”
You may remember that a while back Nina and I wrote a post Falling for Yoga Myths about some of the things that really do stimulate and regulate our breath, and that I also did a post How Breath Affects Your Nervous System detailing the relationship between the Autonomic Nervous System and the breath. Part of my purpose for writing these posts was to correct some common misconceptions about breathing that continue to exist in the yoga community. You may recall that I mentioned that the levels of carbon dioxide (NOT oxygen) in the blood stream are monitored by the deep brain structures, and it is the CO2 levels that have some of the greatest influence on changes in breathing moment by moment. In addition, the brain and the periphery of the body are also assessing the acid/base balance of the blood, or the pH.
But now, Dr. Fishman adds in a new twist to our understanding of breath! Turns out that the same nerve receptors we have talked about in relationship to balance, called proprioceptors, which are located in the muscles, tendons and joints, affect breathing, too. Not only do they tell the brain where you are in space, how fast you are moving and in which direction, but also the movement of joints, tendons and muscles stimulate part of the brainstem that regulates breath called the apneustic center. Located in the part of the brainstem called the pons, the apneustic center is involved in stimulating our inspiration or “in breath.” Movement—physical movement—stimulates increased depth of breathing, known technically as “hyperpnea.” In a serious, life-threatening situation in which the breathing was slowing and shallow, moving someone’s limbs could stimulate the breath back to healthier levels. Cold water and pain can have a similar effect on breathing.
This connection between bodily movement and improved depth of breathing is helpful news, especially when it comes to people who have been previously inactive, have become stiff, suffered a loss of vitality and notice that their breathing does not respond well to physical stresses such as an increase in work load for their body. By beginning to move the joints and limbs systematically, as we would do in a beginning level yoga class, we are (without even mentioning how to breath) going to stimulate an increase in the depth of breathing. I am sure many of you have had this experience: at the start of class, during an initial sitting meditation or centering practice, the breath and chest feel slightly tight and restricted, but when your attention is brought to the breath at the end of a balanced yoga asana practice, the breath seems to have greater freedom and depth with less effort. This body-to-brain connection of the proprioceptors and the pons of the brainstem are likely at work. Just one more reason to keep moving your body!
To read all kinds of nerdy details on the physiology of breathing, check out the article Regulation of Breathing.

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