• Nayana Cariappa

How Breath Works (Part 2 of 2) : Myth Busting!

In my last post I talked in depth about the anatomy of how breathing works. Today we will talk about 3 myths about breathing:

MYTH #1 : Belly Breathing is Good, Chest Breathing is bad

A very well respected authority in the yoga anatomy world, Leslie Kaminoff, has done some amazing work on breath anatomy. Leslie's pet peeve is when, as teachers, we distinguish between "belly breath" (diaphragmatic breathing) & chest breath (non-diaphragmatic breathing). This distinction unfortunately makes us believe that there is a type of breathing where the diaphragm is not active.  Here is a pictorial representation of what happens in the body when we breathe in and breathe out. 

The diaphragm is a muscle - one that can contract and expand like any other muscle in our body. The very act of breathing in and breathing out will actively engage the diaphragm. A non-diaphragmatic breathing is NOT possible. At all.

MYTH #2 : Breath = Air

Often we hear that breathing with the belly fills in the bottom of the lungs, breathing with the ribs (intercostal muscles above) fills in the middle of the lungs and breathing with the collar bones (clavicular breathing) fills the tops of the lungs. This incorrect understanding of the body changing shape getting equated with regional ventilation of the lungs is mostly because the concepts of breath and air are misunderstood. Air moves in and out of the lungs via the bronchial tree. This pathway is not affected with the shape changes in the abdomen and chest  at all. Just because a particular region of the torso moves doesn't mean that there is more air going into the lung underneath that area.

MYTH #3 : Deep Breathing is always good, in all activities

This one is tricky to understand and you might even ask isn't the point of all yoga & pranayama we do, to teach the body how to breath deeply and longer? No. The point of pranayama is to bring the body back to its "normal" state of restful breaths, which in our modern lifestyles are often unavailable to us, given our postures and our stress levels. Our body is a smart cookie. It knows how to breathe normally. Normal breath is when our respiratory activity is consistent with our metabolic needs. Since our metabolism changes with our activity, so must our breath. Therefore deep breathing all the time is not a good idea - your breath will be faster while running because the metabolic demands of the body is higher too. In Leslie's words : 

"Yes, in yoga we train ourselves to breath deeply, and in a variety of unusual patterns, but this is only for the purpose of exploring the full potential of our breathing mechanisms in order to uncover and dismantle habitual patterns that obstruct normal function."

Every time you hear me say anything in class that does not make sense to you, ask me for explanations - this will not only deepen your own understanding of human anatomy, but if i do not have an answer, it also pushes me to research and fine tune my understanding. 

I have borrowed heavily from resources and do not claim to be the original author of this text. I have, to the best of my ability and experience, made an effort to present this information is an understandable form to you all and do not intend any copyright infringement.

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