“Don’t forget to breathe……Are you breathing?”
I often say this to patients as they perform their PT exercises. This statement is usually met with a look of confusion mixed with guilt, then followed by the words, “No….I was holding my breath.” As a smile creeps across their face they mention that they forgot to breathe because they were concentrating on how to do the exercise properly. Once they try the exercise with breath they find that it is less strained and more effective.
In PTA school we learned about respiration in terms of oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange, the importance of this physiological process to the heart and lungs, and the muscles that make all this happen.
Most yoga classes start with focus on breath as a way to quiet and center the mind. Breath is called prana, or a vital life force. It contains three parts; Puraka (inhalation), Rechaka (Exhalation), and Kumbaka (a pause between inhalation and exhalation). As I practiced yoga one day, it occured to me that the element of Rechaka is magical in its scope of usefullness.
On a physiological level the primary muscle of inhalation is the diaphragm. In a healthy individual without a compromised respiratory system, the exhalation occurs without any active engagement of muscles. It is a passive activity of deflation of the lungs. So it really just…..happens. Even though there is no muscle action involved, the Rechaka is powerful. An exhalation can:
- Relax muscle tension and decrease emotional stress
- Assist during Exertion
- Assist in Engagement of Core Abdominal Muscles
Each of these could be a blog post individually. I will definately have another post dedicated to core engagement. So here I’ll briefly talk about Rechaka’s relationship to the first two.
First, during yoga classes I teach, I talk about the exhale being an invitation for the muscles to relax. A great time to try this off the mat is at bedtime. Once you’re comfortable, close your eyes and notice your breath. Exhale slowly and evenly. Focus on heels or ankles sinking down and relaxing. Continue this with each body part, feet to head. If you’re not asleep by this time, take note of what’s going on in your body, as well as your mind. Rechaka is useful in quieting the mind and releasing muscular tension.
Second, when you need to complete tasks that require physical exertion (exercise, moving heavy objects), exhale as you perform the most physically demanding part of the job. Rechaka can give you an extra boost of power when you need it. Try this next time you perform a challenging yoga pose or at the gym when you’re working out.
Indeed, Rechaka has magical powers. I encourage you to use this readily available, free resource when you need relaxation, release of muscular tension, or an extra surge of energy and power.
Namaste and Be Well! Lorie