By Shameem Akthar November 2006 Breathe in, breathe out. Particularly, breathe out, because efficient exhalation is a crucial factor in maintaining mint-fresh health. Part of the excitement and thrill in learning yoga comes from rediscovering lost physical skills. Many students suddenly realize just how misaligned their bodies and minds have become. Often, this acts as a powerful release, awakening them to the possibilities of health and mental peace that they have lost somewhere along the road to bodily neglect. Among the most powerful skills they pick up, if they have advanced in their practice in yoga, is the ability to exhale. You may wonder what the fuss is about: after all, even an unborn baby can do this naturally in a mother’s womb. Perhaps. But as adults we are worse off then a babe, having forgotten this natural skill, among the many others we forget as we advance into adulthood. The first surprise for those who learn pranayama is the difficulty they encounter with exhalation. Often, many do not even appreciate this failure on their part, especially if they are in a large class with very little supervision. Even the most basic pranayama practice will require you to exhale twice as long as you inhale. But surprise, surprise! Most beginners cannot even exhale to as many counts as they inhale, often exhaling to half the counts only of their inhalation. So, the primary skill you must focus on during your yoga practice is just to relearn the skill and stamina in exhalation. Why is exhalation of such paramount importance?o The International Breath Institute, Colorado, has found that 70 per cent of your body’s natural toxins are released during exhalation.o Inefficient exhalation is the primary cause of hypoxia, which simply means that there is insufficient supply of oxygen to the cells in the brain and other important parts of the body.o Disease occurs because bacteria and virus are anaerobic: they thrive in surroundings where there is no oxygen. So, if you have been exhaling inefficiently, thereby inhaling inefficiently, it is inevitable that your body becomes a perfect host for various diseases.o The length of your exhalation is the primary indication of the elastic recoil of your lungs. What this means is that your lungs must collapse like a balloon so that it can dunk all its waste air out and thus create the suction effect for more fresh air to rush in. If that is not happening, your residual volume (waste air that remains trapped in the lungs) is more, meaning there is less fresh air entering your lungs.o When there is more residual volume, it means the alveoli (where the blood-oxygen exchange takes place) remains compressed and are rendered inefficient. This pushes the chest out, explaining why sick people may sometimes have ungainly heavy chest.o When residual volume is high, the diaphragm, the large muscle that moves the lungs up and down, is flattened and rendered inefficient (80 per cent of respiratory work is powered by the diaphragm).o This means the emergency respiratory accessories like neck and shoulder muscles are roped in, creating more workload for them (they must work three times longer even while you are resting). There are also the metaphysical associations that our yogis attached to exhalations. When you breathe in, you are making yourself receptive to fresh experiences. When you exhale you are breaking old patterns by dumping old experiences. The old Taoist saying sums it up simply: Breathe the old out, breathe the new in. Simple Breathing ExerciseDo this lying down initially since those who are unused to efficient breathing may feel slight dizziness. Keep a book or some light weight object on the abdomen. Inhale to a count of four and exhale to a count of six. This is one round. Do up to ten rounds only initially. Slowly increase up to 30 rounds over a few weeks. Then double the exhalation, so you inhale to a count of four and exhale to a count of eight. This depends on individual capacity, so take extreme care not to exert. If you feel breathless or dizzy, you are exerting, and must learn to do lesser counts and lesser rounds till your lungs can accommodate this new skill.
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