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On Breathing

A recent podcast chat with Professor Qian Moss at Des Moines Area Community College prompted us to take a calm, deep breath.

That’s because she is passionate about yoga and its powerful impact on anatomy and physiology.

“Yoga is anatomy,” said Professor Moss during the chat. (The yoga portion starts at about the 20 minute mark). Yoga, she added, is “physiology in action.”

In addition to teaching at DMACC, Professor Moss is a passionate yoga practitioner and believer in the Ujjayi breathing technique. Ujjayi is a cooling pranayama (breathing technique) known as “Ocean’s Breath.” It calls for inhaling slightly deeper than normal and exhaling through your nose with your mouth closed and constricting your throat muscles. “If done correctly,” says the Himalaya Yoga Institute, your breath “should sound like waves on the ocean.”

As Professor Moss noted, good breathing leads to powerful benefits for the brain.

As this review of science literature in the National Library of Medicine pointed out, 11 studies have demonstrated a “positive effect of yoga practice on the structure and/or function of the hippocampus, amygdala, prefrontal cortex, cingulate cortex and brain networks including the default mode network (DMN). The studies offer promising early evidence that behavioral interventions like yoga may hold promise to mitigate age-related and neurodegenerative declines as many of the regions identified are known to demonstrate significant age-related atrophy.”

The simple of act of breathing!

And doing it correctly.

So this tidbit sent us to YouTube and we discovered James Nestor, the author Breath: The New Science of A Lost Art.

On a companion video (1.2 million views today), Nestor advocates breathing through your nose for all sorts of reasons, including how it affects circulation, brain function, digestion, and virtually every aspect of human anatomy. Noses help filter the air we breathe, too, and deliver more oxygen to our bodies.

He also points out that proper posture and rhythmic breaths maintains and improves lung capacity, the key indicator of longevity.

Photo by Elijah Hiett on Unsplash

Not surprisingly, Nestor’s video brings the breathing issue right back around to yoga. He pointed out that yoga started as an exercise that emphasized sitting and breathing (before movement and yoga poses were brought to the practice).

The brain, says Nestor, is getting most of its information from the body. About 80 percent of the messages between the body and brain start in the body. Your body is telling your brain whether you are fearful or calm. By breathing slowly, he says, you put yourself in a calm state and send the message back to your body—all is calm.

So inhale to a count of three and exhale to a count of six or eight. Your heart rate will drop, your blood pressure will drop.

And that echoed with something Professor Moss said on the podcast about the two-way “pathway” between body and mind. “Every time we do yoga,” she said, “we positively impact our anatomy and physiology which is our body structure and function.”

We breathe in and out about 22,000 times a day. Seems like there are plenty of opportunities (say, with each breath) to get it right.

Thanks again to Professor Qian Moss for a stimulating conversation.







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