Yoga as Medicine: The Power of Breath to Deepen Yoga’s Healing Benefits

Yesterday I was honored (and I mean that in the truest sense) to present as part of the Yoga as Medicine series at The Institute for Integrative Health. My presentation focused on the healing power of the breath and its ability to deepen a Yoga practice. It challenged me (ugh PowerPoint), pushed me to speak in scientific language (not woo), and inspired me (the breath is a powerful tool of healing – of that there really is no doubt).

During the two hours we looked at simple tools that could easily and effectively engender the Relaxation Response. The Relaxation Response was quantified by Dr. Herbert Benson and unequivocally proved that we have an innate ability to relax ourselves. How awesome is that?

The discussion of the Deep Breath examined its:

  • impact on the Immune System (your Lymphatic System is pumped by muscular contractions and the diaphragm is one of the strongest muscles in your body).
  • power over the Autonomic Nervous System (Sympathetic (fight or flight) and Parasympathetic (Relaxation Response)).
  • remarkable ability to release and relax your body, mind and spirit.

We moved on to utilize three different breath-deepening techniques during a Hatha Yoga practice:

  • Deep Belly or Diaphragmatic Breathing

    Exhale all the air out – contract the muscles of the stomach to force the air. Now inhale and you will feel the belly expand with the breath.

  • Humming Breath
    Humming automatically lengthens the breath. It also vibrates our sinuses. When the sinuses vibrate they release nitric oxide (vasodilator), which can help us to relax. Read more here.
  • Blowing Breath
    Forcefully blow the air out of your mouth (like a three year old trying to blow out candles). Inhale through the nose. Continue for 10 rounds (if you start to feel light headed, don’t try so hard).

Part of my presentation focused on the necessity to lengthen and release the Psoas Muscle, “The Psoas is considered the muscle of fight and flight.”* When the Psoas relaxes we relax. Two different Psoas release techniques were included during practice. You can watch videos here:

Practice also included singing. As any good singer will tell you, singing forces you to breathe DEEP: JOYFUL SONG

We also utilized Aromatherapy during both, active practice and deep relaxation, in order to help engender the deepest, slowest, most luxurious breaths possible.  Watch a video right here!

If you are interested in learning more about the breath please come to a class at Quiet Winds – all classes include Pranayama (Breath work) practices.

Remember to BREATHE DEEP my lovelies!

In addition, following is the bibliography I used as a springboard for my presentation:

Benson, Herbert. The Relaxation Response. New York: Harbertorch, 2000. Print.

Brown, Richard and Gerbarg, Patricia. The Healing Power of the Breath. Boston & London: Shambhala, 2012. Print.

Coulter, H. David. Anatomy of Hatha Yoga. Honesdale: Body and Breath, Inc., 2001. Print.

Farhi, Donna. The Breathing Book. New York: Owl Books, Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 1996. Print.

Rama, Swami, Ballentine, Rudolph, Hymes Alan. Science of the Breath. Honesdale: Himalayan Institute Press, 1979. Print.

*Staugaard-Jones, Jo Ann. The Vital Psoas Muscle. Chichester: Lotus Publishing, 2012. Page 76.