Respiration dynamics – Converting reflex into conscious

School of Yoga explains respiration dynamics – Converting a reflex action into a conscious one


Pranayama dynamics

Prāṇāyāma (prāṇa = motility or breath + ayāma = stretching/ restraint) is that aspect of respiration dynamics which focuses on converting breathing from a reflex action to conscious action.

The movement of breath is kinaesthetic and can be traced as it moves in and out of the body. Therefore, awareness can be enhanced by following the course of breath at various points, such as nostril, nasal cavity, tongue, throat, chest, stomach, pubis or anus.

When this is done, there is increased awareness and control over the breath (pranayama). Also, this focus activates the relevant cakras and result in improved functioning of the organs in that area.

Respiration dynamics explores the nuances of the practice;

School of Yoga explains – Physiology (parts of the body associated with prāṇāyāma);

  1. Nostril – The focus is on awareness of incoming and outgoing breath at the tip of the nostril.
  2. Roof of the nasal cavity – The olfactory bulb at the roof of the nasal cavity is closest to the amygdale, pineal, pituitary, hypothalamus glands and brain stem. Awareness of the breath at this place helps in management of stress.
  3. Throat – Awareness of breath as it moves past the throat which has the thyroid, parathyroid, pharynx and larynx helps control fear and the endocrine organs.
  4. Thoracic – The thoracic cavity encloses the heart, lungs, trachea and diaphragm, all enclosed in the rib cage.  Awareness (prajñā) should be on the breath moving at the sternum. This gives the following benefits;
    • It increases the volumetric efficiency of the lungs.
    • As heart pumps de-oxygenated blood to the lungs, brings back blood pregnant with oxygen and then pumps it to the rest of the body, this area increases oxygen content in the blood.
    • There is reduced stress and regulation of blood pressure.
    • The diaphragm acts like bellows, pulling in oxygenated air and throwing out exhausted air.
    • The increased oxygen reduces number of destructive free radicals, thereby increasing tissue health.
  5. Abdominal – The abdominal cavity holds multiple organs associated with digestion, reproduction and waste disposal. All of these are enclosed in the peritoneum which is itself enclosed within the abdominal wall. When the peritoneum and abdominal wall are exerted in breathing, the following advantages are obtained;
    • During complete inhalation, the abdomen moves downwards until the maximum deflection of the diaphragm. This increases the volumetric efficiency of the lungs.
    • The practice of prāṇāyāma acts as a massage of the abdominal organs with each other. Consequently, there is increased blood supply to all digestive organs. As a result, there is regeneration of all digestive organ tissue, improved peristalsis and evacuation, improved endocrine functioning and better absorption of nutrients. This increases activity of samāna-vāyu and movement of prāṇa through the maṇipūra-cakra.
    • Awareness of the breath at the periphery of the bottom of the abdomen enhances activity of prāṇa through the mūl̄adhāra and svādhiṣṭhāna-chakra. 

School of Yoga explans – Respiration and the abdominal cakras :

All the abdominal organs are placed in a loose structure within the peritoneum. So, prāṇāyāma impacts health of the abdominal organs significantly. The significant points of the peritoneum impacted are;

A – The peritoneum is anchored at the bottom of the abdomen, between the anus and genitals, called rectovaginal excavation. This is the location of the mūl̄adhāra-chakra.

B – Also, the peritoneum is anchored behind the pubis at a location called the uterovesical excavation. This is also the location of the svādhiṣṭhāna-chakra. 

C- The peritoneum flexes most at the centre of the abdomen or navel. This location is called maṇipūra.

School of Yoga explains – types of respiration;

  1. Normal – This breathing is a reflex action; it is un-noticed by us. When we are stressed or emotionally disturbed, it is erratic, shallow and rapid and calm when we are at rest.
  2. Shallow breathing – this is a conditioned type of breathing. The breath is taken only till it reaches the lungs and movement of both, the ribcage and abdomen is minimum.
  3. Rapid breathing – this is a type of conditioned breathing where the diaphragm is oscillated rapidly for quick ingestion and exhalation of breath. The process does not allow adequate time for complete oxygen transfer, but the quick chest and diaphragm movement increases blood supply to the entire area, increasing absorption capability. Rapid movement increases aspiration capacity of the lungs because more dead lung spaces are brought into action thereby increasing forced volume of the lungs.
  4. Deep breathing – there are two types of deep breathing, reflex and conscious. Reflex breathing occurs in situations of complete peace. Conscious deep breathing is nāḍī-śuddhi-prāṇāyāma.
  5. Breath holding – in stress situations, we often hold our breath as a reflex action. However, in prāṇāyāma, this is made deliberate and as a part of the breathing practice. This allows a person to to increase transference of oxygen into the blood stream while exhausting carbon dioxide and water vapour out of the body completely.

School of Yoga explains – prāṇāyāma practice and respiration:

Prāṇāyāma should be practiced in the following manner;

  • It should be performed in a clean room where there is minimum dust. Practicing in the open is best.
  • Prāṇāyāma should ideally be done after āsana. Rest for some time after āsana to enable blood supply to stabilise before prāṇāyāma practice, because there is blood is redirected from the musculo-skeletal system to pulmonary circulation (circulation between heart and lungs).
  • It is recommended that one cleans the nose of physical blockages before beginning prāṇāyāma.
  • Perform prāṇāyāma in an empty stomach, preferably at least 4 hours after a meal. Consequently, this allows the food to get fully absorbed in the intestines. A full stomach will act as an impediment to the free movement of the diaphragm and abdomen. In extreme cases, this could result in cramps. Also, this permits free movement of the diaphragm and the abdomen.
  • It is recommended that prāṇāyāma be performed in the morning. The night cools the air, resulting in higher density of air close to the surface of the earth. Also, there is increased oxygen content in the air as a result of lower pollution and higher density of air. This will increase the oxygen content absorbed by the body during prāṇāyāma.

Points to ponder on respiration:

Internal Links: Dharma (conditioning), Stress and Situational Awareness, Prana, Asana overview 1, Asana Overview 2, Asana Focus or gazingHatha Yoga Pradeepika 

External Links: Prana, Chakra, Pancha Tattva, Pancha Prana, Pancha Kosha, NadiBreathing

Editor at School Of Yoga
School Of Yoga is a single point resource for all aspects of Classical Yoga practise. We try to achieve this by placing Yoga's traditional methodology in front of the reader and eliciting his or her experience. We value everyone's Yoga experience and would like you to share and enrich other practitioners so that everyone benefits.
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