(Written sometime in 2011)
As the trees lose their leaves in a blaze of red, orange, and yellow and nature moves through a great exhalation in the transition from warm to cool weather, I have a confession to make: I love to exhale. Although I appreciate that inhales are both necessary and nourishing as they bring in the needed oxygen to cells to stay alive, I find exhaling immensely satisfying.
Here are a few reasons why you will also come to love exhaling:
Exhales are purifying. When we exhale, we get rid of unnecessary gases, namely carbon dioxide, out of the blood and body.
Exhales are calming and always accessible. When you exhale, receptors in the aortic and carotoid sinuses stimulate a shift for your heart to beat more slowly. This means that if you take longer to exhale than inhale, the effect will be a slower heart rate. Exhaling more slowly than you inhale is a way—and one that is always available to you—to reduce fear and anxiety. Try inhaling for 3 counts and exhaling of 6 counts several times and see if you can feel the difference.
Exhalations are relaxing by nature. By contrast, inhalations can take place only as a result of muscular activity. The elasticity of the lungs keeps pulling them to a smaller size. This means that we can exhale simply by relaxing.
Exhaling facilitates letting go. Many people exhale loudly and fully when they feel their stress levels rising and subconsciously (or consciously) know that they need to let go. Perhaps this is because when we breathe out, we can let go of unnecessary holding and surrender to the present moment. In the poetic words of B.K.S Iyengar, “Exhalation is the outflow of the individual energy to unite with the cosmic energy. It quiets and silences the brain. It is the surrender of the sādhaka’s ego to and immersion in the Self.” (100)
To learn more, check out:
Science of Breath: A Practical Guide by Swami Rama, Rudolph Ballentine, and Alan Hymes.
Anatomy of Hatha Yoga by H. David Coulter.
Prana Pranayama Prana Vidya by Swami Niranjananda Saraswati
Light on Pranayama: The Yogic Art of Breathing by B.K.S. Iyengar