The Science of Yoga Breathing – techniques to fight infection

The subtle art of yoga breathing
according to BKS Iyengar

In Yoga we breathe in and out through the nose to calm the nervous system and the mind. Ancient yogis believed breath was as precious and finite as life itself. They learned to conserve it by slowing the inhalation and stretching the exhalation.

Modern science confirms the yogis were right. Techniques using slow, deep, nasal breathing are the body’s first line of defence against airborne infection. Studies suggest they may even reduce the severity of Covid 19.

Breathing expert Patrick McKeown explains the science behind the techniques in his book The Oxygen Advantage. 

“All these things have often come from the East,” he said. “Yogis knew there was something behind this. They knew that it worked but they might not have known the science. But the science is catching up.”

Sterilise the air

Nasal breathing produces Nitric Oxide (NO) a powerful anti viral chemical that sterilises the air. NO reduces risk from infections because it is highly toxic to bacteria.

Reduce Blood Pressure

Nasal nitric Oxide is so important for immunity it was named chemical of the year in 1992. It reduces blood pressure and blood flow by relaxing blood vessels, causing them to widen.

The great news for Yogis is this mighty molecule is naturally produced in meditation and asana practice when we observe nasal breathing practices.

How to optimise breathing

Breathing is a skill – it’s important to get it right. For optimum production of Nitric Oxide, breathe soft, slow and deep into the diaphragm, so the lower ribs expand.

Place your hands on the lower ribs to encourage the lateral movement of the ribs as you breathe in. Don’t labour or force the breath. It should be easy. The slower you breathe the higher the concentration of nasal Nitric Oxide.

Ocean Breath, Ujjayi and Alternate Nostril Breathing, Nadi Shodana are two excellent practices for this.

Humming to supercharge

Research shows humming increases Nitric Oxide more than fifteen times compared with quiet exhalation.

Bee Breath / Brahmari or the mantra Om are the ideal because they oscillate the airflow, which dramatically increases nitric oxide.

Remember humming only gets results if air is inhaled back through the nasal cavity. Breathing through the mouth doesn’t produce NO. Vibrate the sinuses to get the most benefit from this.

Listen to Patrick McKeown’s fascinating talk on breathing in the video below.

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