On mouth breathing

prismatic flower mandalaWe are born and the first thing we do is inhale. The last thing we do when we leave this mortal coil is exhale. Everything that comes in between is called a life.
Yoga considers the breath to be both an energy in itself, and a carrier of energy, so many practices in yoga are about freeing the breath. All yoga has breath work (pranayâma), but the style of yoga that I teach, Viniyoga, has a very specific way of approaching pranayâma. I could spend a lot of time explaining how we do it, but it really is easiest if you come to class and embody the practice.

I marvel at the deep belly breaths my 10-year old daughter instinctively takes when she has to concentrate hard on some task like, say, drawing a circle or cutting out a pattern. Most adults doing the same thing would hold the breath. Observe your breath next time you want to take a photo…give me a comment below about what you observe, let’s make this fun, eh?

So, somewhere between youth and adulthood, the breath changes. I have observed many people on my massage table who only mouth-breathe, and many are doing so 20+/minute. Ideally, we should breathe 6-12x/minute. Anything more and you’re wasting energy. Anything less and you’re way ahead of me and I don’t have anything to teach you!

Anatomical manifestations of an incorrect breath are many. Alterations in the voice are common. Back pain in all zones of the spinal column is often related to incorrect breathing . Postural problems are common among mouth breathers, as are changes to the face and jawline. Mouth breathers often project their lower jaw forward, and turn down the corners of their mouths (not a good look, sorry).

There are physiological problems, too: the nose filters incoming air, and warms it before delivering it to the lungs. Mouth breathers take no advantage of the nasal turbinates and adenoid tonsil (for immune function), and thus deprive themselves of a very important cleaning process.

Yoga has tools to re-establish healthy breathing. We often think of yoga as postures, and indeed it is. But the trick of yoga is to do those postures while breathing correctly. By practising with a qualified teacher, using a method that pays attention to the breathing (there are yoga lineages that just put you in a pose and say “breathe deeply”), you can take control of this incredible physiological process that accompanies you from cradle to grave and discover for yourself just how wonderful it is to breathe deeply, slowly, and through the nose.
Happy practice. The Guru is within you.

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