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Yoga and Breathing


The above exercise is called Salute To the Sun (One of Mike's favorite yoga/stretching exercise series). But it is for many quite arduous and not a part of my teaching.

"The body's innate natural pharmacy releases tranquilizers, endorphins, "happy hormones" and melatonin, without the side effects of medications." Yogi Amrit Desai

This page is about supporting you and the Yoga community in the quest for superior knowledge and effectiveness about proper breathing. We are limited only by our imaginations and our breathing is often the wind beneath our wings.  Yoga, when used properly, and being one of the most effective self help approaches to life and living on earth, invites me to assist its myriad expressions into being integrated with as much wisdom related to breathing mechanics and energy as is possible. 

About what might be regarded as a basis for developing what Michael Murphy in his Future of The Body  calls "ordinary psychosocial development". or a full bodied home base to return to prior to traveling out into the spaces of all possibility. A grounded center to return to safely following investigations of altered states of consciousness and meta-normal experiences. "

YES, Michael Murphy!  I strongly believe it is very advisable to develop one's breathing  FIRST,  BEFORE we venture out into the ungrounded random ways of the world, regardless of their potential for spiritual expansion or cosmic exploration. In other words, build the landing strip to return to BEFORE you take off into the stratosphere, so that you have a familiar and dependable place to return to; inside yourself.  

Both Donna Farhi, author of the excellent The Breathing Book and "R", a co-founder of Yoga Journal (and my former minister's wife) have stated that they taught Yoga for over 20 years - Donna - and 40 years Rama,  and neither knew how to breathe right or did not think to teach others. With the phenomenal and well deserved popularity of yoga in the past decade it behooves us to alert everyone about this issue as there may well be millions of students and teachers with an unclear or distorted idea of healthy breathing. Bad Breathing Training

While on board a cruise together in March of 2013 Yogi Amrit Desai, - one of the last living Yoga masters invited me to privately view his almost finished video about his life and accomplishments.  A very special man.  His Curriculum Vitae is many pages long. We have several mutual friends.  He shared with me that "Yoga is popular but what is popular is not yoga."  

There are many "styles" of yoga including bad, good and great yoga. Durckheim observed  that "even though many yoga teachers try to help their students relax before giving them breathing exercises, they do not realize that the 'letting-go' required for deep relaxation can be achieved "only after long practice." 

There's a wide range of yoga teachers out there. One has many choices in weekend wonder courses and can then call one's self a yoga teacher.  As Donna Farhi and Leslie Kaminoff will attest there may well be tens of thousands of yoga instructors and millions of students uncertain about proper breathing. The greatest tragedy of this is that many teachers are first to defend their breathing development proficiency but alas, last to prove it.  Very little information is needed or wanted because "information" including anatomy and physiology is often confused because most have no internal relationship about what great breathing looks, sounds and feels like. What is needed is the physical energetic experience of good breathing. Chocolate or salt must be tasted/experienced. A feeling can be worth a million well meaning but still inaccurate words. I know as I learned this the hard way.

Cautions to be judicious and respectful of breathing exercises abound in the literature on hatha yoga. And it does indeed seem from anecdotal reports of explorers in this field that the rhythm and record of our respiration resonates throughout the body. It seems to accentuate whatever is in the mind, whether it be benevolence, or malevolence, harmony or disharmony, virtue or vice. On the negative side, experienced teachers report that quirkiness of any sort, gets accentuated in students who go too far. ‘It might be an abusive streak, laughing inappropriately, speaking rudely, flightiness, twitchiness, or nervous tics. Right to left physical imbalances also become exaggerated. Unfortunately, novices often close their ears to warnings; having become addicted to their practice, they will not be denied. Competent teachers of hatha yoga will be watchful of these simple matters and wary of tutoring refractory students. Even the beginning exercises discussed in this chapter should be treated with respect.

"Apart from psychological concerns, the special physiological hazards of breathing exercises is that they can cause problems without giving us traditional signals warning us against doing something harmful. In athletics, the practice of asana, experiments with diet, or just tinkering with any subject in the physical world, we depend on our senses to tell us that we are exceeding our capacity or doing something inadvisable. But breathing exercises are different. In that realm we are dealing with phenomena that our senses, or at least our untutored senses, are often unable to pick up, even though they can still affect the body. And because of this, advanced exercises should be undertaken only by those who are adequately prepared.” H. David Coulter, Anatomy of Hatha Yoga p 131.  Yet Dr. Coulter's breathing chapter is decidedly Sympathetic Nervous System biased.

From a Breathing Times subscriber:
Breath is the unifying principal of the three systems of mechanics, metabolism, and mentality. It is the psychopharmacological link between conscious and unconscious states. Each of the three mechanical aspects of the breath have specific neurotransmissional function. Any technique(s) that  emphasize(s) one aspect of the mechanism exclusively will shift neurometabolism accordingly. Since neurometabolism is a volatile equilibrium, this is not trivial. Yoga practices are designed for this  purpose, stimulating a specific aspect or relationship of aspects. I realize that contemporary yogis don't always explain it this way, and I think that also leads to misuse and abuse. Right knowledge is yoga or union. That union is from bringing together all aspects, and applying discernment.   Jim Nettles.

A few words from Else Middendorf.
"All the yoga ways of breathing come from the male way. The Eastern way of thinking is to find God in one direction, in a male way. 'The way is directed. I go there and I have to go; I must go'. This way needs will; That is also the reason why, in this case, breathing is connected. it has something to do with will. This male way of being needs will. When this is the basis, the breathing is under the law of the will"

Mike adds. "This can also transform conscious breathing into "self-conscious" breathing. It gets out of balance."
more about balance

Pranayama
"
Just as lions, elephants and tigers are gradually controlled; so the prana is controlled through right practice.  Otherwise the practitioner is destroyed." Verse 15 of Chapter 2 of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika

A comment from a recent radio talk show listener featuring Mike. "A close friend of mine became very ill in India studying Pranayama, my guru Amma says you have to be very developed before you undertake it, It can be harmful."


Pranayama is said to begin spontaneously with the perfection of hatha yoga positions, and this way of breathing then and only then facilitates the advanced techniques. But just which hatha yoga positions are the "perfected" ones and why?  And just how long might it take to develop them. Who is it qualified to say which one is which?


I recently -2013- took a week long prana class from Yogi Amrit Desai. He really knows what he is doing.

The word Prana translates as something akin to "life force". The second part of the word is "Ayama", meaning "non-restraint".  The practice of Pranayama is meant to free the life force, not restrain it or over energize it as with many power" yogas.  The techniques are meant to open up the inner life force... which may not feel like a "deep" breath.  I think there's a big misunderstanding about these techniques. 

Warning to those who don't already breathe naturally, who carry a great deal of tension in their chests, backs, and bellies. People who practice pranayama exercises without good teachers or much experience can easily hurt their diaphragms and other breathing muscles. They can also cause imbalances in their internal chemistry. These pranayama are intended for the more experienced  practitioner, and are intended for deeper states of meditation (they often work with increasing the body's capacity to increase blood CO2 - which can increase alpha rhythms and aid meditations). 

According to a former colleague and psychotherapist who also teaches yoga,  "pranayama is meant to be a spiritual practice, and is not meant as a way to take deeper, more so called "healthy" breaths.  The body needs to be well-prepared, through various practices, before the pranamayakosha, or energy body, can work with the pranayama practices appropriately." 

But how do you know that the teacher is qualified to judge when the student is ready for the next step.  We might well have a much different teacher in a licensed accountable psychotherapist or Amrit yoga instructor then we do in someone that has taken a 3 day pranayama training.  

Almost every pranayama I have witnessed is about control (recall Middendorf's "male" of the breath) from the obvious to the most complex levels. To me pranayama today is largely for altered states of consciousness though there are clinical studies in process that are quantifying many health attributes when practiced correctly.  Recent brain research shows that altered states arise from conditions that push the brain into something other than normal. Lung and breathing mechanics problems manifest in varied ways from this forced/male way of addressing the breath.  In my opinion most pranayama is not appropriate because it does not allow first to learn about healthy natural breathing that is developed just for the sake of breathing.   Pranayama, toning and chanting, while being potentially quite beneficial, can often constrict the lung volume and hinder breathing sequencing and balance as well as invite throat blockages similar to certain weight loss programs using breathing as the primary focus and advertised frequently on TV. They can help or not and are safe or not.   

From a newsletter reader

"Dear Mike: I do breathing exercises (pranayama) but I want to know what I can do to make my breathing better. How can I make each breath longer, without having to think about my breathing? thanks! 
From Mike:  Get this program.  www.breathing.com/video-ds.htm

"From a newsletter subscriber: "I had started Alternate Nostril Breathing Pranayama (with no retention) and I was doing it for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the afternoon for 25 days. In these 25 days, I felt very light and nice, suddenly lately I started to feel pressure with pain in my head as soon as I start Alternate Nostril. I feel headache and pressure. I can see my face and eye are looks swollen. My spine is straight. I am doing it correctly. Do you know why this is happening? I have stopped the practice. Please reply to me, I was taken to emergency, but doctor could not figure out what was the problem." MP

I recommend that if you are going to experiment in pranayama that you first develop strong balanced, healthy, natural breathing so your nervous system knows where to return to after any altered state experience; that you know where “home base” is;  Do not learn to fly solo without first learning how and where to land.  Practice makes permanent, not necessarily perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. Leading edge yoga teachers are learning how to teach optimal breathing to ensure this perfect practice.

MEASURED BREATHING EXERCISES 
The 7 count inhale, 4 count hold and 8 count exhale is often cited. Because many people are stressed out, breathe too quickly and thus over-stimulate their nervous system and or invite carbon dioxide issues, almost any attempt to slow down the breathing rate will be somewhat beneficial. But for optimal breathing to be reached and sustained the breathing mechanics must be developed to expand and contract in balance without force or resistance, even during sleep; especially during sleep.

Beware of long term breath following exercises.
They can be wonderful for some and harmful for others. In private sessions I use a scientifically proven biofeedback device to measure blood carbon dioxide saturation and learn that even the slightest attention to the breathing can sometimes cause the inhale to develop a subtle and almost undetectable to the eye or inner sensing, erratic breathing sequencing and pattern during the exercise, which can develop into permanent UDB.  What is perceived as relaxation may be better or worse then it was before but with a long term tendency to cause or exacerbate UDB.  If you've tried breath following and felt that did not work for you, you may already have developed restricted breathing.  You may also have experienced deep peace within which is the primary goal and why it is so good to do when correct. The point is that success is not a given.

STRETCHING
Yoga - the stretching aspect of it - is generally quite good for the human body. It is just not breathing specific.  Many of the Yoga developed bodies I have worked with are better integrated and very responsive to Optimal Breathing work. Much the same as a finely made violin or piano is more responsive to an experienced tuner.  Most people I have worked on have learned to breathe incorrectly and their breathing is a little or a lot out of balance.  Distorted internal breathing balance and sequencing sets in with restricted and inappropriate muscular development and sound making quality, resulting in various forms of energy/emotional/volitional  blocks that worsen as time goes by. more about

Do I stretch using stretches/exercises/techniques that are borrowed from Yoga? Sometimes, as well as from Qi Gong, vocal training, inversion traction, rebounding, Tom Anderson's Stretching Book, walking, gymnastics, weight training and more. 

COMMENTARY: an e-mail from a subscriber
Dear Mike, I fully agree to your view that breathing is often steeped in esoteric agendas here in India. That was exactly the reason that I decided to look out for other sources from where I could gather information, learn and inculcate good breathing habits. 

When I read some Indian books on Pranayama they appeared to me to be not touching the immediate subject, that of the psyche and the physique. When I asked about Pranayama to some elderly persons, I was warned not to practice or to think about it as it was considered to be dangerous when what I only wanted was knowing good breathing habits.

I have no direct control on my heart. Hence I cannot directly control the pace of my heart and whatever other functions it may be doing. There are innumerable such organs, systems and processes which are beyond my voluntary control and hence I cannot meddle with them. Which entails I cannot directly influence them and do them incorrectly or wrongly.

However since breathing has a voluntary part in it, it can be done incorrectly. More the reason I felt that I must know what is correct breathing. What is correct breathing when I am eating, relaxing, doing physical work, reading, having a work out, traveling, sleeping, etc. That is all what I wanted to know.

After having visited your website and that of Dennis Lewis and Illse Middendorf, I recognized that the physical and psychic aspects of correct breathing are very important. Without any foreign intervention in our body this magical gift of breathing has the potential to do wonders to us. Importantly for me it is absolutely and truly the natural way of living.

Having come to this conclusion, I feel I could better live with correct breathing as well as make a livelihood from teaching it when I become proficient enough. Thanks a lot for your invitation. I will remain in touch via the e-mail and the net.

Namaste, CD

From Gary:
I just wanted to express my appreciation for your web-site and, what I suspect is your passion. My experience with pranayama and other eastern breath practices for going on 25 years has been, shall we say, a "learning" experience. The path I took would have been better served having had someone like yourself around to correct the unintended mistakes (learning from experience is not always the best way). My current understanding certainly supports and agrees with your well-written perceptions. Thank you. Gary A

From Mike in an email to C:
Spiritual paradigms
are very important but often taught from within a human nervous system structure that is out of balance due to poor breathing mechanics.  The teacher unknowingly clones his or her own dysfunction and parrots his or her confusions. With the presence of Unbalanced Deep Breathing, constructive spiritual principles may be poorly or much too slowly integrated. Learn to breathe right first.

How do you feel? What do you do differently when you feel like that? How is your life or attitude different? Leave it at that in the beginning. Work on developing the breath and stretching in ways that establishes an inner ease, balance and sense of wholeness/integrity. To bypass this is like painting a wall before you prepare the surface for paint or building a building on top of a weak or non existent foundation.

In support of professional counseling.
Do we suggest that because someone says they can teach pranayama to the Western mindset that they are qualified to assist in another's deepest process? I think not.

I believe that pranayama falls within the category of Breathwork as defined in http://www.breathing.com/articles/differences.htm I always recommend that the really deep work be done with an experienced facilitator (10 years or more) or a state licensed or church certified and accountable health professional.

BREATH HOLDING
When you hold your breath you most often cause excessive physical restrictions. A few need to do that to regain CO2 balance but how they know they are back in proper CO2/O2 balance is only measured by modern technology. Taken too far can lead to issues such as anxiety, snoring and sleep apnea.
Longer inhalations often energize and also can over-stimulate and cause anxiety, panic and UDB.

From a client of one of our students.
Yoga and Breathing
"In my own yoga practice, good breathing has always been confusing. I have had experiences with teachers that were helpful and not so helpful. The best pranayama class I have experienced was taught in a very relaxing way, mostly laying down, dim lights, with plenty of calming asanas first. There was no pressure to time the breath or to hold anywhere. It was refreshing as I had been used to a more ‘formal’ practice. Sometimes it is assumed that if one can perform the asanas well, then pranayama will come easily. This is not my experience. Firstly, the seated pranayama techniques can be difficult for people who are not used to sitting for a long time on the floor. In my own experience, sitting cross legged was not a good idea, because I had a Psoas imbalance that caused lots of tension in the breath. Kneeling with support was much more preferable, but I still did not feel very relaxed. From this I conclude that breathing work for some works much better to begin with in the supine position. There needs to be no tension whatsoever, this can be assisted by a teacher who is calm and accepting of all students, adapting to their needs.

Now in my second week of Optimal Breathing practice I can honestly say I am amazed by how it has transformed my yoga practice. The asanas have a flow, and ease about them. My jaw is relaxed and I am so much more aware of my body. Meditation comes easier, especially when preceded by the Optimal Breathing work. Overall I have felt much more balanced in my practice, even in a class environment.

As a yoga teacher I have often wished for more wisdom about breathing. I have heard so many different ideas and theories it is hard to work out what is the best way to teach. If we look at Pilates, for example, there are useful things to learn from it, however, along with the strong core, there needs to be a softness. This is similar to the masculine/ feminine idea, also the idea of strength and flexibility or effort and ease. There is a time for rest and listening to the body and there is a time to guide the body. I believe that resting and listening needs to come first, that way we work from our very own experience, not what we think it should be. What could be the use of being shown how to retain breath when that breath is in only one area of the lungs, the others being shut off by tension?

In summary, we need to know the basics first. So many people today are off balance in one way or another. They need to be shown their place of center and ease first, then they can proceed with more advanced practices at their own pace under experienced guidance if they so wish." More from other students

Complete breathing - yoga breathing   Exercise and Breathing


Email from subscriber.
I am very interested in training to become an OBDSA. You made reference to alternative breathing methods used through the centuries to "center" oneself, ie: Yoga. Are these methods the bases of your teaching? If so, can an alternate format be developed to earn your certification? Future OBDSA, Lynn

From Mike: School attendance is required.  Similar to breathing exercises, yoga, is a much overused word and means many things to many people. Stretching on the other hand is often good for breathing. Yoga, is quite varied therefore fraught with potential mistakes and poor teachings. For example an individual, although a proclaimed expert in good breathing tradition, was unable to escape hypocapnea except when practicing yoga, which he had practiced daily for more than ten years. His learning about breathing, unfortunately, had been state specific, and had not generalized to the rest of his life, although he was absolutely convinced that it had done so.

.
 
From a radio talk show listener:

Lisa, I want to thank you for last night's show with Michael white.
I was listening to your radio blog.....for some reason my computer was stuck on your radio blog page from the night before (I was listening tuesday night) and I wouldn't let me close the window or push any buttons on the radio blog website.....true story.....what caught my  attention was when you said that you practice yoga but learned that the yogic breath wasn't enough.....I practice a lot but I still can never get enough sleep and I battle with panic disorder on a regular basis........anyways here I am really wondering what the hell is wrong with me because I eat healthy mostly raw, I'm not fat, I do a lot of physical things but I am suffering like someone who is truly ill........this was really making sense to me what Michael was saying and I went to his website. I just figured he was probably in NYC or Cali but it turns out that his office is two blocks from my house in Charlotte, I can walk to it....this is absolutely crazy and ironic and I didn't just stumble on it....this was meant for me to see and hear about......weird that my computer just automatically started playing your show when I turned it on from sleep mode and it wouldn't let me turn it down or off or minimize or anything.
I really wanted to share this with you and thank you, maybe this is my solution to my problems.....listen to the entire program when we find the proper link.

From a prospective student.
"Greetings Mike, Thank you for committing to enlighten and educate  on the art and science of Breathing.

I am a certified Yoga and Pranayama Instructor. The classical Yoga breathing techniques I teach are common in most yoga and Hindu wellness traditions, and I have studied yoga and Pranayama in India and the United States.  Although I have been teaching Pranayama for three years, I have often felt I do not have any foundation on the mechanics of breathing.

I have known for some time I need to offer my students more than just techniques, but a foundation on which to apply the breathing practices.  Therefore, I began praying and visualizing for the manifestation of a Master in the mechanics of breathing to broaden my knowledge of the benefits of conscious breathing and the mechanics of the flow of breath through the body.

It is also my desire to become aware of my own breathing patterns, increase my confidence as a pranayama leader, and establish myself as a resource on breathing / Pranayama in various wellness communities.   I am very interested in the optimal breathing development specialist apprentice training you offer, and would like to explore options to participate in a training this year."  xxxx

A recent email. mike's responses in bold
"
Hi, I am studying Breath retention, Kumbhaka in yoga. I am aware that many texts say that Breath retention is a vital part in Pranayama. However, I do believe that many people are practicing it wrong. I agree. I am curious on your views on breath retention after reading some of your website. Although I agree that breath retention if done incorrectly could lead to problems biologically, I still however believe that it can be beneficial outside of the modern understanding of science..........  I agree.

I am personally practicing breath retention with a STRICT disciplined awareness of NO tension and NO strain. Meaning, if i get the slightest sensation of "strain" or tension, or "suffocation" I will immediately and in a relaxed way STOP the retention......Wise approach.

I do not Breathe in and then hold the air in........NOR do i breathe out and HOLD the air out...........Actually I try to mentally "will" myself to stop breathing automatically do to a relaxed equilibrium and sensation brought about by a consistent "normal" breathing....... i believe that non breath retention, such as slow inhalation and exhalation...or any conscious controlled breathing can potentially cause ill effects if done without regard for the natural warning signs i.e. ( gasping, straining, force holding, tension..etc) I agree but the breathing mechanics should be moving, albeit slowly perhaps sometimes almost imperceptive to a watching eye.

My personally theory that I am exploring with is that the Human body will naturally "adjust" itself in seemingly "impossible" ways to deal with the repetitive detections of breath retention/holdings.......... When this occurs, one will gradually develop a Physical/Psycho alteration that will allow the person to enter into Subconscious categories of human existence, and gradually bring conscious control over all (many more that up to now are thought not controllable) bodiily aspects...later leading to mental mastery........and then conclusively spiritual transcendance brought by control over the physical and mental disobedience. Well said.

I would like to hear your "scientific" thoughts on this . Jay. This is important insight. You seem partly on the right track. But I believe you also should super oxygenate at alternative times. www.breathing.com/oxygen-concentrator.htm
I suspect you will deduce why.

Let me know what you conclude. Tell me your name and what city you live in and we can begin a dialogue about all this. For my simplistic approach heading in a self regulatory direction see www.breathing.com/exercise2.htm
The LEASE. Long Extended And Slow Exhale.
(Described in the sheet that comes with the CD)

Consciousness wise slowing the breathing down is PARTLY somewhat like a higher density of pixels in that it puts more awareness into each split second. The body learns to do with less. Sort of opens the gates via vasodilation and acidosis. But there is much more. Especially during the law of mass action learned about in www.breathing.com/oxygen-concentrator.htm

mike

See also:
Yoga Breathing

A word from Tony Crisp


So there are lots of questions about yoga, and particularly ‘yoga breathing’. Originally a spiritual as well as physical process, yoga in the West in many cases has become more focused on the physical. Off shoots such as Yogalates (a yoga/pilates blend), Ashtanga and Bikram Yoga (practiced in sizzling hot rooms) often resemble full on gym workouts, rather than a relaxing process. 

What I and colleagues around the world frequently encounter is those with existing breathing mechanics issues who have had very unpleasant reactions when instructed to do ‘yoga breathing’. This involves huge increases in tidal volumes inviting excessive airflow into the upper chest as part of the practice. Anyone who has symptomatic borderline low carbon dioxide levels is going to flush out even more carbon dioxide.

One person recently reported feeling nauseous and started shaking at her first yoga class, when asked to do large full chest breaths. No wonder! Our recommendation to people we see with chronic breathing pattern disorders is to redevelop your breathing first with the Optimal Breathing  Kit. Only when low slow easy relaxing nose breathing is safely re-established is it advisable to retry yoga.

Regular yoga classes are a great way to stretch and strengthen the body but the more power oriented ones often demand more than they give.

How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body

What yoga instructors are saying about Optimal Breathing

Begin Here Develop Optimal Breathing and make your yoga the best it can possibly be.

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The breathing improvement techniques, practices and products outlined in this publication are extremely gentle, and should, if carried out as described, be beneficial
to your overall physical and psychological health. If you have any serious medical or psychological problem, however, such as heart disease, high blood pressure,
cancer, mental illness, or recent abdominal or chest surgery, you should consult your health professional before undertaking these practices.

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