Inhale Versus Exhale

Most of us have been mispronouncing these two words: breathe and breath.

Breathe is a verb we use for the process of inhaling and exhaling.

Breath is a noun that refers to a full cycle of breathing. It can also refer to the air that is inhaled or exhaled.

Inhale. Exhale. Breathe! Take a breath!

So ubiquitous is the phrase, “take a breath”, we take for granted what an incredibly complex system our body undertakes by the involuntary action of the cardiac muscle and the external/internal respiratory system. But we have been told innumerable times in all forms of media to simply take a breath. If only it was that easy. For each inhale (whether voluntarily or involuntarily) we carry oxygen into the body through the lungs where an intensive amount of work is done, most importantly this is where ‘diffusion’ happens. Diffusion is a gas exchange within the alveoli whereby oxygen diffuses through the walls of the alveoli and enters the bloodstream, carried by red blood cells. When we are not purposely controlling our breathing, we can thank our medulla oblongata, a.k.a. the brainstem which automatically regulates the rate and depth of breathing. Then the carbon dioxide levels increase within the blood, reacts with the water in the blood which produces carbonic acid. Once the blood becomes acidic, we breathe out.

The true trigger to “take a breath” is not our need for oxygen. That’s a close second place. We are carbon-based creatures and we gather carbon molecules in food. These molecules are broken down and we extract the energy that holds the molecules together and it becomes our metabolic energy source. Within this process of breathing our body makes the carbon dioxide that is expelled in the breath from our mouth as a waste product. Our bodies must rid ourselves of the increasing carbon dioxide levels within the bloodstream and that is the primary trigger to keep us “taking a breath”.

Consider this physiological instinct the next time you have an underwater swimming race or who can hold their breath the longest contest. It usually begins with the contestant hyperventilating in order to empty the lungs/body of fresh oxygen and through this belief of priming the lung capacity. Then, the would-be contestant sucks in their largest breath and expands their lungs with oxygen. We have seen news reports and cases of athletic and youthful people dying at the bottom of pools while trying these innocent fun games. Possibly, through hyperventilation, these young people ridded their bodies of carbon dioxide and thereby stunted the essential trigger needed for breathing. Without the need to expel carbon dioxide, the instinct for taking a breath is no longer there and they pass out beneath the water.

The world will remind us all to breathe deeply and inhale, it’s equally, if not more important to purposefully exhale.

The Power of your Breath

The first day Satya arrived. I had been going along quite happy with my practice, staying focused and breathing my way through the sore muscles, endless sweat dripping and lots and lots of pushups. I felt I was getting stronger and more flexible with each day.         Until now.
What makes it possible to do the asanas one day and not be able to achieve that the next. I had gone through all the same steps and done all the same movements but my concentration was distracted. There was something inside me that wanted to get out.
I have a knee that is recovering from a reconstruction. I know that I have limits from this but I also know this has allowed me opportunity for huge improvement. I normally feel determined this will not stop me in my practice, it will only make me stronger.
Today my mind used my knee as an excuse. The day before we did the active meditation, where you run on the spot for 15min. I have been running on my knee since the operation so I decided this activity would be fine. We did the exercise then an hour and a half practice. My knee was a little tight but overall not too bad. The next day I went to practice and started out fine. As I got further into the asanas my body was giving me little hints something was out of balance. One side was compensating and my muscles were not as relaxed as usual. Thoughts started to creep into my mind about my injury. Should I be doing this or that and why does it hurt today and it didn’t yesterday. This was enough to take my concentration away from my breath and let frustration creep in. Then I started thinking you should listen to your body and maybe not push it too hard if it is injured. But how do you know if it is too hard or if it is just your mind trying to control you. I find it more challenging to take a step back and sit out than push on and find out.
We also had the distraction of having a different teacher, my boyfriend was arriving at that time and another student had to leave unexpectedly for singapore. I was not conscious of all of these distractions at the time but looking back I am sure they somehow played a part.
My emotions were coming to the surface and my practice was going downhill. My breath was all over the place along with my body and my mind. I noticed I had started breathing through my mouth. This bought my awareness back to my breath.
I kept going and struggling with frustration until I found my breath again .The Ujjayi breathing got me back in the room and in touch with the asanas. I focused my thoughts on my breath and breathed my way through the rest of practice. The last part was salvaged. I did feel drained but I felt I had achieved something as I was able to regain my focus which also reinforced the lesson of the power of the breath.