Breathing 101: Breath Ratio

Breathing 101: Breath Ratio

The next topic for Breathing 101 is that of the breath ratio. In the first post we covered the basics of breathing and a few common breathing pattern problems. In the second post we looked in depth at breath awareness.

Your breath ratio is important because it tells you something about the state of your body. There are three possible ratios –

* Inhale and Exhale equal in length
* Inhale is longer than Exhale
* Exhale is longer than Inhale

Try This:
Lie on the floor in constructive rest.

Close your eyes and take a moment to settle in.

Take a few breaths before turning your attention to your inhale. Count the length of your inhale over 4 or 5 cycles of breath. Though the pace of your counting doesn’t matter, try to be consistent about it so you get an accurate count. File away the number you get most often when you count: this is the length of your inhale.

Now turn your attention to your exhale. Count the length of your exhale over 4 or 5 cycles of breath. Again, keep your pace consistent to get an accurate count. Compare this number to the length of your inhale and you know your breath ratio!

What your ratio means:
A ratio of equal length is what we strive for in physical (asana) yoga practice. In every day life an equal ratio indicates balance and ease as you move through your daily activities.

A ratio of inhale longer than exhale means you are over inhaling. When your inhale is longer than your exhale, you will over oxygenate the body and contribute to your stress level. Over breathing sets your sympathetic nervous system in motion (this is the branch of your nervous system that oversees fight or flight mode. While fight or flight mode is appropriate if you are running out of a burning building or away from a charging elephant, being in this mode as a chronic state will create a loop of stress and anxiety. You may over inhale out of habit, or if you are an asthmatic, it may be part cause, part effect of your asthma.

A ratio of exhale longer than inhale means you are relaxing and also able to sing through longer phrases of your music! This process triggers the parasympathetic nervous system which governs relaxation. In this state you are able to be present to your surroundings, calm on stage and connected to your breath and body.

In our next post we’ll look at some exercises to do to help lengthen your exhale and shorten your inhale.

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