The Importance of an Exhale

Breathing affects every single system of your body, so it makes sense that your breathing patterns will strongly influence your well-being. Poor breathing habits, such as shallow, chest breathing and holding your breath from time-to-time can wreak havoc on your health and medical research has linked less-than-optimal breathing habits to heart disease, high blood pressure, chronic pain, anxiety, lack of energy, poor posture, and low back and neck pain.  

There is a growing body of evidence that breathing with an emphasis on the exhalation helps us relax, prevent disease, and enhance our health. I refer to a slightly longer exhale as “exhaaaaaale.” In Chinese Medicine, this breathing style is known as “Buddha’s Breath.” Yogis have known about the virtues of exhaling and often train others to exhale longer by chanting mantras in one long exhale- a practice that many yoga traditions have employed. TKV Krishnamacharya for example was known for having his yoga students stay in the pose while chanting a mantra in one long exhale. 

Scientists are just beginning to understand how exhale-dominant breathing benefits us. Exhaling the air out stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS governs the relaxation response that combats stress and enables us to relax, have a better digestive system, express ourselves more clearly, and recover from trauma and injuries. The PNS also helps us to be in the moment, have more clarity and focus, and focus on the positive.

Additionally, current research shows that exhale dominant breathing also plays a role in preventive medicine by stimulating the vagus nerve. Dr. Kevin Tracey of the Feinstein Institute has demonstrated that the vagus nerve, a major component of the PNS, plays a major role in an “anti-inflammatory reflex.” Dr. Tracey’s research has shown that stimulating the vagus nerve decreases chronic inflammation, whereas blocking the vagus nerve increases inflammation. Scientists are now linking low-grade chronic inflammation to a myriad of common diseases and medical conditions, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, chronic pain, and stroke.  It’s time to exhaaaaaaale!  

Want to learn more about the importance of the exhale and its roll in your optimal health? Enroll in my self-paced online research-based pranayama course BREATH POTENTIAL, or you can schedule private pranayama sessions online or in person with me. Contact me at: anna@davannayoga.com 

References

Conrad, Angar, et al. (2007).  Psychological Effects of Breathing Instructions for Stress Management.  Applied Psychophysiology Biofeedback, 32, 89-98.

Farhi, D. (1996) The Breathing Book: Good Health and Vitality through Essential Breath Work. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, Inc.

Mehling, Wolf E., et al. (2005). Randomized, Controlled Trial of Breath Therapy for Patients with Chronic Low-back pain.  Alternative Therapies, 11, 44-52.

Pastor, M.C. , Menendez, F.J., Sanz, T.S., & Abad, E.V.  (2008). The Influence of Respiration on Biofeedback Techniques. Applied Psychophysiology Biofeedback, 33, 49-54.

Tracey, K.J. (2007). Physiology and immunologoy of the cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway.  The Journal of Clinical Investigation, 117, 289-296.

Tracey, K.J., & Oke, S.L. The Inflammatory Reflex and the Role of Complementary and Alternative Medical Therapies. (2009) Longevity, Regeneration, and Optimal Health: Ann. N.Y. Academy of Sciencies, 1171 172-180.

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