Go ahead and slouch for a moment. Yep, you read that correctly. Slouch and take a deep breath.
How’d that go?
Now, sit up tall with a lengthened spine. Take another breath. Much better, right? We all know that posture is key for our breathing but often need to be made aware of its impact with simple, quick tests like this.
Your difficulty breathing with a slouched posture, a position known as excessive thoracic kyphosis, comes from limited rib expansion. It also compresses the diaphragm, which is the primary muscle for breathing. The more thoracic flexion or kyphosis, the less lung capacity — up to 30 percent less, actually.
A good, old fashioned lunge, or “lung-ing,” is one of my favorite yoga poses that creates the exact opposite process for breathing. It reverses all the sitting, driving, and Netflix watching that we do because it opens up our hips and psoas in extension, develops stamina and endurance of our quads and glutes, plus it expands our chest, lungs, and shoulders. And it feels really good.
Better posture = better lung capacity = better breathing = more oxygen = more energy.
Our lungs, of course, are at the forefront of global concern these days with the prevalence of COVID-19, so let’s get into them. They are fascinating, especially if you are an anatomy nerd like me.
Together, your lungs only weigh about 2.9 pounds, with each practically being around the size of a football. And they float! Their pulmonary buoyancy comes from the 1,500 miles of airways which are loaded with microscopic bunches of grape-like sacs called alveoli, where respiration occurs (the intake of O2 and the release of CO2). Structurally, the right lung has three lobes and the left lung has only two with a cardiac notch designed to house the heart.
From examining the structure of your lungs to now examining how your breath is actually feeling, in this moment, what is the sensation of breathing telling you? In traditional Chinese medicine, grief and sadness are the emotions associated with the lungs. And that makes perfect sense. When you are deeply sad or worried, what happens to your breath? It constricts. It vanishes. It becomes frantic and rushed. meanwhile, how is your breath when you are feeling calm and happy? It’s soft. It’s smooth. It’s light. Our breath is very literally an emotional barometer; a direct reflection of our mental state.
A normal adult breathes around 17,000 cycles in 24 hours, mostly unconsciously. Meanwhile, tapping into your conscious breath with a practice called Nadi Shodhana/Alternate Nostril breathing is practiced for brain balancing, for shifting the mind, releasing grief, and calming nerves. Try it out and see how different you feel after a short bit of conscious breathing:
–Sit comfortably with a lengthened spine (good posture is key!).
–Place your left hand in your lap.
–Bend in your index finger and middle finger of your right hand.
–Close your eyes.
–Lightly press your right thumb just below the bridge of your right nostril and inhale through the left nostril.
–Seal off the left nostril gently with your ring/pinky finger just below the bridge of the nose, and exhale through the right nostril.
–Inhale through the right nostril.
–Seal off the right nostril, exhale through the left nostril.
–Inhale through the left nostril.
–Seal off the left and exhale right. Aim for 4 seconds on the inhale/exhale and for the pauses, increasing to longer counts when it’s comfortable.
*Repeat this process for 8-10 rounds