Breath is so powerful, yet so often taken for granted and forgotten. Taking a breath is the first thing we do after we are born, and the last thing that's done before dying. It is essential to our existence, so we probably should be more aware of its mechanisms. Breathing gives us energy – thanks to the transport of oxygen to the cells of our body. We need to nourish our cells with oxygen and get rid of waste products, like CO2. Breathing is key to neurological processing. Putting it short- we can't live without our breath or how we breathe is how we live.

Seeing this process physiologically, we can talk about respiration- the exchange of gas in our bodies, minute ventilation- the volume of air breathed into the lungs in a given minute, respiration rate – the number of breaths per minute or tidal volume – the amount of air displaced during inhalation. But how exactly the inspiration happens? The brain stem initiates the inhalation. Via the phrenic nerve, the diaphragm muscle contracts downwards. This changes the pressure in the lungs and pulls the air into the lungs. When the lungs are full, afferent baroreceptors feed the brain stem causing inhibition of inhalation. The exhalation is passive. Of course, this is very simplified, as there are more muscles used in breathing (intercostals, abdominals, or accessory muscles).


Breathing could be modified voluntarily, and the observation of the way someone breaths can tell us a lot about this person's state (relevant in grief, depression, anxiety). In yoga therapy, we use breathing assessment as a critical element of diagnosis, looking at the location, rate, intensity, and inhale/exhale ratio. The most optimal breathing is the diaphragmatic (belly) breathing, however some people present reverse breathing and, on some occasions, accessory (chest) breathing, like when we exercise.

Forced way of breathing may manifest in muscle tension, especially around the scapula, upper arm, and chest. Too much of the accessory breath may be the result of bad habits, respiratory disease, or stress. As a result, our accessory muscles get tight, diaphragm weakens, we get headaches, and we have reduced uptake of oxygen and feel stressed, as we are in a sympathetic arousal state.

There are many ways to adapt the breathing patterns to what can be potentially more beneficial for us, only by modifying the way we breathe. Prolonging the exhale is a simple adaptation skill to use in response to stress. When we want to signal our mind that we are relaxed- we should breathe into our lower lungs. It is because our lower lungs are richer with alveoli (end of the bronchioles), where the air exchange occurs. Their total surface is of 50-100sqm in a healthy person. Hemoglobin from the red blood cells will pick up oxygen and has more space to expand- its compliance is more significant in the lower part of the lungs, so it permits greater gaseous exchange. For our optimal health, we need 95-100% oxygen saturation- the amount of available hemoglobin that bounds to oxygen. It is problematic for people with anemia.


Yoga therapy offers useful tools to respond to the individual needs to adjust the breath location, rate, and intensity as well as ratio. The most relaxing breathing rate is 5-6 breaths per minute. During this slow breathing, we keep CO2 at an optimal level, so that the blood doesn't become too acidic. Once we speed up the respiration, there's more CO2 in the blood, making it more acidic. That's why we expel more CO2 during exercise. It's a by-product of glucose use that we need to get rid of. It can become a vicious cycle for people with anxiety. People engaged in relaxation consume less oxygen, as they are in a parasympathetic state. The longer exhalation sends signals from the nucleus via the vagus nerve to drop the heart rate.

A yogic perspective on energy, breath, and alignment

Yogic philosophy's view on breath starts with the concept of energy. According to yogic texts, prana is omnipresent universal energy. On a macro level, this manifests in electricity, magnetism, and heat. In the human body, this refers to the subtle body, connecting to the networks of channels, resulting in the physical and mental processes influenced by the level of the flow of this energy. The quality of prana can differ and is prone to change. We can work with prana by breathing practices but also regarding its quality in the environment that surrounds us as well as food that we consume.

Other misalignments may lead to various disbalances and diseases, depending on location in the body. Prana is subdivided into five vauys (bodily winds): prana, apana, samana, udana, and vyana. Prana vayus, located between diaphragm and base of the neck, controls all the other in an upward motion and is responsible for respiration, heart, and lungs functioning, as well as circulation. Apana, located in the pelvic region, is responsible for elimination and excretion (functions of kidneys, bowel, and bladder). Samana, located between navel and diaphragm, has a balancing role between apana and prana as well as controls the digestive system and our metabolism. Udana is located in extremities (arms, legs, neck, and head) and controls our senses, movements, and speech. It's a link between the heart and brain. Vyana is pervading the whole body and provides us a "second wind".

The alignment of the energy in our bodies, according to the yogic model, is represented in various koshas (our sheaths of functioning). In manomaya kosha, it results in clarity of mind, in vijnanamaya kosha- in a clear insight and anandamaya kosha in a pure experience of bliss.

Our way of influencing the energy in various koshas and prana centers is through breath control- pranayama. It literally means the extension of the vital force through deliberate control of respiration. Its purpose is to purify the energy and liberate us so that it leads to the power of the mind (steady breath=steady mind). Pranayama has been treated as a preparation for meditation and has a broad spectrum of techniques (ujjayi, sitkari, sitali, bhastrika, bhramari, murcha, plavini).

The aim of purification through the breath is connected with another conceptual model of nadis. Nadis are portrayed as energetic channels in subtle bodies through which prana flows. It is a universal concept for yogic and Chinese medicine (meridians). According to this theory, there is a central channel- Shushumna nadi, as well as left (ida) and right (pingala) nadis. They all originate from the base of the spine (root chakra- muladhara). Shushumna flows directly upward and ida and pingala coil around the central spinal column in alternate directions, crossing at various chakras. Yogi's aim is to balance the flow of prana between ida and pingala so that they are unified in shushumna. Then one can achieve a state of inner peace, and kundalini can rise till crown chakra, resulting in a samadhi state.


Ida and pingala are opposing forces. Ida governs the left side of the body, is related to the lunar energy, and represents introversion, relaxation, cooling qualities. Pingala rules the right side of the body, is related to solar energy, adding more dynamism, heat and is energizing. Shushumna is active only when both sides are in balance – achieving physical and mental neutrality. Reaching the point of balance is possible via alternate nostril breathing or respecting the nasal cycle and adapting our activities accordingly to the dominant nostril (Swara yoga).

Yogic work with energy is then through various activities: dietary regulation, asana practice (physical blocks of energy), satkarmas, pratyahara, breath practices(pranayama) as well as visualizations, meditation, and concentration practices. Our overarching aim is to achieve balance in prana as a vitalizing force to achieve mental, physical, and emotional clarity.

Updated: May 14

When is the best time for a change?

Hint- yes, your intuition has this right!

The trust is - when you start noticing the need to change, this is usually the most natural moment for the change to start. This is the most potent opportunity: when the motivation is at its highest, as you see many reasons for it to go through as well as the rather negative consequences of not taking action. We can use the frustration so that it positively serves us and find solutions. Because one thing is to notice the need for change, and another one is to be in a position to change. We can thankfully change our attitudes, ways of perceiving something, even some thinking patterns (although this usually takes longer). We are in the power of our reactions, over the amount of energy we dedicate to the issue and the decision of either constructively changing what's in our hands, or changing rather our outlook on it.

CAN I EVEN CHANGE?

Another interesting aspect of change is the very first step we could take. It often really IS in our power. there can be many reasons that are holding us from this action. In most cases, the problem might be that after this first critical step, there will be probably many reactions that are out of our control. And this is precisely what withholds us. We are afraid of the unknown or of the worst-case scenario. Another reason is that we tend to focus too much on the outcome, on the very opposite of the current situation, on erasing the problem, the "all too ideal scenario". This is unfortunately also very limiting in consequence, as it freezes our actions. We see the beautiful vision, but not the concrete steps and although we can name the next immediate step, we cannot perceive the whole path.


Sounds familiar? Have you tried to implement some change in your life but always either gave up even before starting or was too afraid of the potential effects of it as too revolutionary for the current status quo? This has a lot of possible explanations and I'm sure you could easily identify them yourself. Maybe "the timing wasn't right" or maybe the place, or you were missing this final push or the confirmation that this is the good way to go. Or you'd feel better if someone somehow decided instead of you, or helped you in some way?


I perfectly know it. And I've been there myself. Many, many times. Chickening out before this final decision, signature, click, allowing the universe to show later whether it was a good or bad choice. I also took many completely spontaneous decisions in my life, where I've put everything on one card. And it worked. Or it didn't. And I've learned from both experiences.


COMING BACK AGAIN AND AGAIN

There are some "inner calls for change" that keep on appearing when our mind is calm. When we don't focus our attention on anything in particular. Some kind of voices from your intuition. And very often they keep on repeating the same message, an impulse for change that you feel would provide you so much more clarity, authenticity or happiness, but somehow it just keeps staying there under the surface of the real life. Being constantly pushed to the background by other, "more alarming" events of life or busy thoughts. Until the next time when you get reminded of this idea you had by seeing someone realizing it, living the life you wanted for yourself, showing you that YES, it is possible. and probably not easy. But without this adjustment in your life, this first step towards change, it is NOT GOING TO HAPPEN

You are your sabotaging force.

Not the "unfair universe" it. You know it. Not your childhood, not people who hurt you. You are the only necessary element for the change to start happening.


Yes, but HOW TO START?

Throughout my life, I've tested many tools and methods. On myself as well as with my clients. I had witnessed some amazing transformations. And I feel that I also keep on evolving myself, as a person and therapist. Our ways are unique and what worked for me would not necessarily have the same effect on you. There are, however, some necessary steps that you'll need to take on your journey if you want the change to provide long-lasting effects on your life.


66 DAYS FOR CHANGE (click to learn more about the online program)

My idea is to offer you an online program with daily exercises inspired by positive psychology, Buddhism, and yoga. And these will not be physical exercises, rather visual pdfs with many interesting steps to follow through. I don't want it to be yet another challenge. I believe in the power of commitment. That's why the therapeutic process takes time. And that's why to welcome a stable change and not only a trend, you need to carefully analyze and adapt several elements of your lifestyle, create new habits and routines and keep showing up day-by-day with no judgment but open heart and mind.


Are you feeling you might be interested in following this process with my help?


Let me then explain more in detail how I see this journey and which areas it will touch. You must know that in all I do, I am deeply inspired by Buddhist and yogic philosophies. But not only theoretically. The most inspiring element has always been for me how to "translate" these spiritual development concepts into daily life and use it in a more practical way to deal with whatever comes on my way. And how, through my behavior could I come closer to expressing my life's purpose. I know that some words like "mission and vision of life" or "true self" may sound vague and disconnected from the real-life, but very often in my psychotherapy practice that's precisely what's missing in people's lives- a lack of clarity of mind, passion, a vision of what gives them the real satisfaction and happiness. And that's what we are going to focus on in this program.

1:1 SESSION

It will be necessary for us to connect along your journey. And you will be the one deciding at which point would you need this additional directions precision and support. I prepared an outline of action points, but you will be responsible for its implementation. There will be room for adjustment, depending on what field your need for change touches upon. I aim to equip you with a personalized tool for this change to materialize. Day-by-day. For 66 days. Step-by-step. Side-by-side. 66 exercises, delivered to you daily to finally bring this change to life. A very real, daily action, not only a thinking process.


YES, I AM INTERESTED! (click to sign up to receive the update about the program)

Everyday demands of high-speed urban lives make it more and more difficult for many of us to constantly having to adapt to the demands of the environment. Many stressful events result in physiological changes and observation of this relation as the root of diseases is the focus of psychosomatic medicine that links mind with the body. Sometimes, the body knows best, and before our mind realizes that there has been a disbalance. Every one of us has an individual internal capacity to handle stress, that Daniel Siegel called “a window of tolerance”.


Physiologically, our reactions to stress are controlled by a major neuroendocrine system: hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis. It regulates many other body processes, including digestion, the immune system, mood and emotions, sexuality, and energy storage. The HPA axis integrates physical and psychosocial influences in order to allow our organism to adapt effectively to its environment, use resources, and optimize survival.



There are two modes to the stress response:


1/ The hypothalamus, via the pituitary, causes the adrenal cortex to release cortisol, which acts to release increased amounts of glucose from the liver’s glycogen stores. Cortisol release also causes retention of sodium and water by kidneys, increases blood volume and pressure, suppresses immunity, and reduces inflammation. Excessive levels are harmful as they can lead the body to use too much of its resources, damage tissues, and compromise immunity system.


2/ The adrenal sympathetic response is initiated by the hypothalamus. It causes the adrenal medulla to release epinephrine and norepinephrine. These two neurotransmitters increase blood flow to muscles and organs, allowing quick transportation of glucose to organs and muscles to allow the needed energy to fight or flee.



What controls this stress response?


We are equipped with an evolutionary physiological survival instinct called the fight or flight response coined by Walter Cannon. When faced with stressful situations our body releases hormones- epinephrine and norepinephrine to increase heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, metabolic rate, and blood flow to the muscles, gearing our bodies either to battle or to flee from the danger. Thankfully, our body is also inbred with the relaxation response (term by Herbert Benson) – an inducible physiologic state of quietude and ability to heal and rejuvenate itself. Both fight or flight response and relaxation responses are based on the mechanisms of the autonomic nervous system, respectively sympathetic and parasympathetic.


The autonomic nervous system maintains homeostasis by controlling heart rate, digestion, respiration, salivation, perspiration, sexual arousal, urination, and movement of blood flow to muscles and organs. Its two branches are sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. They are antagonistic in nature and can be compared to gas and brake pedals in a car. The sympathetic nervous system uses lots of energy to prepare us to focus on stressful stimuli, therefore we call it a catabolic system. It breaks down things to get more resources and puts on hold processes that are calming or not vital to our survival (like nourishment, reproduction, or elimination of wastes). It is vital to our functioning, but its chronic activation can leave the body exhausted and depleted. To counterbalance, we have a parasympathetic nervous system that is dominant when we are resting, sleeping, and digesting, therefore it’s called an anabolic system that concentrates on rebuilding the body’s resources. In a healthy human being, it is the default system.


Yoga as a regulation practice can help us exit the fight or flight mode. Mindfulness can potentially make us more conscious and receptible to the bodily signs and cues of stress so that we can react to it before the results get too harming. In an ancient classical yogic text called Taittiriya Upanishad, there was a mention of a concept named koshas (“sheaths”). According to this concept, our true nature is covered and surrounded by five layers of awareness through which our experience of the world is filtered. They are the physical sheath (annamaya kosha), the sheath of vital life force and energy (pranamaya kosha), the mental or psychological sheath (manomaya kosha), the sheath of wisdom and intellect (vijnanamaya kosha) and the bliss body (anandamaya kosha). Imbalances within the five sheaths create psychological and physical suffering that take us away from our true wellbeing.



In the view of Vedantic philosophy, we all carry an individual fragment (atman) of universal consciousness (brahman). In the model of kosha, this atman resides in our innermost core, covered by five illusions (mayas). Our unique perception of reality comes through our identification with these layers of illusions. Our over-identification with aspects of the sheaths separates us from the knowledge of our true nature. Yoga therapy uses this model as a diagnostic tool to view a person holistically to understand the root of suffering (physical, mental, or psychological). It enables yoga therapists to embrace a multifactorial assessment of a person’s needs and move beyond a one-dimensional approach to treatment.

  • Facebook
  • Instagram

 © Ewa Kampelmann 2019