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Yoga and Breathing

- Namrata Sudhindra, yoga teacher

A yogi measures the span of life by the number of breaths, not by the number of years - Swami Sivananda

Breathing practices predate the common era (CE) and were written about in many sacred texts including the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras, Hathapradipika.

Pranayama (the Sanskrit term for yoga breathing)

  • Prana means “life force” or “vital energy”

  • Ayama means “extension” or “expansion”.

  • The word Pranayama means extension or expansion of the dimension of vital energy.

Yoga Sutras depict pranayama as the 4th limb of an eight limbed path. Presented after asana and before meditation as a gateway practice toward greater transcendence Rhythmic deep and slow respiration stimulates and is stimulated by calm, content states of mind. Irregular breathing disrupts the rhythms of the brain and leads to physical, emotional and mental blocks. Though breathing is mainly an unconscious process, conscious control of it may be taken at any time. Consequently it forms a bridge between the conscious and unconscious areas of the mind.

It is said that if you breathe 15 times per minute, you will live to 75 or 80 years. If you breathe 10 times per minute you will live to 100. The speed at which you breathe will dictate the length of life. If you breathe fast, your life will be shortened. This is why dogs, birds, rabbits have short lives vs pythons, elephants and tortoises. On a physical level, a slow breathing rate keeps the heart stronger and better nourished, contributing to a longer life. On an energetic level it increases the absorption of energy into the pranamaya kosha(vital energy body), enhancing dynamism, vitality and overall well being.

Breathing Apparatus and Mechanics

  • Diaphragm

  • Intercostal Muscles

  • Accessory Muscles

Why Nose Breathing?

  • Temperature control humidifies and purifies the air

  • Adds friction and control to the breath that increases breath efficiency

  • Triggers neuroreceptors in your nose and sinuses that signal safety

  • Impacts jaw and palate development in children

  • Affects quality and quantity of sleep

  • Adds nitric oxide to the breath

    • Nitric Oxide (NO) Production

    • Produced in the paranasal sinuses

    • NO is a strong vaso and bronchodilator

    • It's crucial for blood vessel health

    • Healthy NO levels are associated with healthy circulation and heart health

    • Short half life, needs to be restored

Autonomic Nervous system

  • Usually Automatic

  • Controls heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, pupilary response, urination and sexual arousal.

  • Has two branches - Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous system

Parasympathetic Nervous System:

  • Rest and Digest

  • Increases blood flow to stomach and GI tract

  • Stimulation of peristalsis, urination and salivary glands

  • Decrease in heart rate

  • Pupil normalisation for short range vision

  • Sexual arousal

Sympathetic Nervous System:

  • Fight or flight

  • Stops digestion/elimination

  • Blood goes to muscles and lungs almost 12x more

  • Epinephrine(adrenaline) goes up

  • Heart rate increases

  • Pupil dilates for better long range vision

  • Sexual orgasm

Yin Yang Balance

INHALE - Strength, brace, expansion, sympathetic response

EXHALE - Opening, relaxation, contraction, papsympathetic response

INHALE - Length and strength

EXHALE - Opening and release

INHALE - Yang / Sun / Day / Heat

EXHALE - Yin / Moon / Night / Cool

Vagus Nerve

  • 10th cranial nerve, longest of the ANS

  • Vagabond nerve as little branches go everywhere

  • Largely responsible for the parasympathetic response

  • Controls heart, lung and digestive tracts

Breathing and Vagus Nerve

  • Vagus nerve passes through the opening of the diaphragm

  • Stimulated by deep breathing

  • Stimulated by humming and singing

  • Breathing promotes vagal tone

  • High vagal tone = increased responsiveness to environment, ability to adapt


  • Nasal test

  • Empty Breath Hold

  • Lung capacity test

Nasal Cycle

  • Discovered by German physician, Richard Kayser

  • Test in the morning, before and after meals, before exercise, before bed

  • 90-120 min shifts

  • Impacted by deep breathing

Nasal Dominance

Left Nostril

  • Right brain activity / alpha brain wave

  • Parasympathetic nervous system stimulated • After eating • Relaxed, tried, sleepy

  • Love, empathy, emotional connect

  • Feelings of calm and creativity

Right Nostril

  • Left brain activity / beta brain wave

  • Sympathetic nervous system stimulated • Hunger

  • Wakefulness / alert

  • Prepped for physical activity / exercise • Feelings of go-go- go, anxiety, action

Coffee Breathing

  • 30+ breaths per minute

  • Reduces CO2

  • Increases blood PH

  • Constricts blood vessels and breathing passageways

  • Slight increase in blood O2

Water Breathing

  • 50% of natural rate 2x the volume 4-6 I /min

  • Nose only breathing

  • Diaphragmatic breathing

  • Tones the nervous system

Whiskey Breathing

  • Less than 3 breaths per minute

  • Inhale : Exhale = 1 : 2

  • Diaphragmatic breathing

  • Seated or supine

  • Nose only or nose to mouth

Instagram - @namratasudhindra @nikayayoga

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