Saturday, May 21, 2011

Breath, Metabolism and a Peace of Mind!

Recently a girl I know asked me a question. She said: “My roommate and I decided to loose weight and started working out.  She started doing yoga and I am going to the gym. We do it regularly. My roommate’s lost weight. I’ve gained weight. Why? “

I always educate the world of the many benefits of yoga, but I definitely have a more psychological, emotional, spiritual bend on the practice, rather than strictly physiological, although I never miss a news announcement that shows latest research of how yoga helps anything from high blood pressure, to fertility, to cancer survivor rates…you name it. Today, I’ll focus on the physiology of yoga and specifically on the AWESOME benefits of the breath. 

Most people are completely unaware of their breath and don’t even know that there are better ways to breath, ways that lead to less stress, more energy, weight loss, low blood pressure and generally a healthy body. Yoga utilizes varieties of breathing techniques to give you that advantage in life. Deep diaphragmatic breathing is an integral part of every yoga practice. Most yoga styles incorporate the breath with the movements. A few, will instruct breathing separately from the movement. My personal preference, and from my observations, moving and breathing is better than move now – breath later. I will explain why in a minute. 

Deep diaphragmatic breath stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and kick starts the relaxation response in your body – hence less stress. Drs. Brown and Gerbarg in a recent article in Current Psychiatry show how trained deep breathing can relieve trauma symptoms.  The sympathetic nervous system, which is stimulated in times of stress and anxiety, controls your fight or flight response, including spikes in cortisol and adrenaline that can be damaging when they persist too long, becoming responsible for conditions such as depression, anxiety, muscle tension and pain, insulin sensitivity, GI issues, insomnia, adrenal fatigue and cardio vascular disease, among scores of other conditions.

Deep diaphragmatic breathing is the fastest way to influence the nervous system.  Also, it increases oxygen in your blood stream. More oxygen = more active metabolism. More active metabolism = leaner body. 1 L of oxygen burns 5 calories. Which is why people exercise. When you exercise, your body demands more oxygen. Even after you finish exercising your body stays saturated with oxygen for a while which keeps you metabolism more active, continuing to burn calories. This is known as the “afterburn” effect. 

Now you can see why moving AND deep breathing is better than just moving and then deep breathing. When you combine the two, as in the way of yoga – you move, increasing the demand for oxygen and your deep breaths supply extra amount of oxygen. This results in high metabolism, which results in burning more calories even though you may be working only at the level of moderate intensity. Some forms of yoga are very active and intense. The effect there is even more pronounced because the intensity of your effort is directly correlated to the amount of oxygen consumed post exercise. Nevertheless, it’s the deep breathing that turns a gentle or moderate activity into a fat burning activity through stimulating your metabolism.  This also means that more intense practice will be more effective if combined with deep breathing. But that’s not all!!! 

Breathing is the “pump” for the lymphatic system – that’s the sewer system of your organism, the way the body transports and gets rid of toxins.  Your cells must have oxygen to survive moment to moment. They rely on a complex exchange between the circulatory system and the lymphatic system. Blood flow carries nutrients and oxygen to them, while the lymphatic system carries away destructive toxins. Proper breathing is the moderator of this exchange. More oxygen to in the blood stream = less toxins in the cells, to put it simply. But that’s not all either!!!

Pranayama is a whole practice of yoga on its own when one delves into various breathing exercises which have such an immediate and pronounced effect on your body/mind that only a few minutes per day can be of great benefit. Because of the profound mental, physical and energetic effects of some breathing practices, the supervision of a qualified instructor is necessary. So, don’t just do something because you read about it in a magazine. 

Curious about what it’s like to live life with energy and lightness in health and happiness, rather than stress, gloom and discomfort? Give yoga a try today. As always, remember the teacher has a lot to do with the outcome of your practice, so try a few and choose wisely. 

Happy breathing, all.

Valentina Petrova has been teaching yoga since 2001. She owns Holistic Movement Center in Morro Bay, CA where she teaches group classes and  advises people privately. For more info, or to book an appointment, call 805-909-1401, or visit the web at

PS...Some fun calorie burning facts, in case you care...

Energy expenditure and tables with a calorie calculator: Also, there at the bottom in the extra info you can find other tools like ideal weight (which tells me i am on the lowest border), body type, and all kinds of other stuff.

Scientists have found out that the burning of carbohydrates during exercise is equivalent to 5.05 calories for every one liter of oxygen consumed. For fat it, is 4.73 calories per one liter of oxygen. They also found out that there is a greater production of carbon dioxide when carbohydrates are burned compared to when fat is burned. So, scientists can accurately determine how many calories come from carbohydrates and how many come from fat during a single session of exercise. In fitness textbooks, the figures are rounded off to 5 calories per one liter of oxygen.

Cardio Equipment
Most cardio machines (treadmill, bike, elliptical trainer, and rower) base their calorie burning formulas on a reference person who usually weighs 130 or 150 pounds. Unless you weigh exactly that much, the number being displayed on the console is slightly inaccurate. Here's how to make it more accurate.
Find out from the gym staff what the cardio machines calculations are based on. Let's assume its 130 pounds. Divide the number of calories burned by 130 pounds. Multiply the answer by your weight in pounds.
For example, the treadmill's display console says you burned 300 calories. Divide 300 calories by 130 pounds. The answer is 2.30 calories per pound. Multiply that by 120 pounds (your weight). The answer is 277 calories. 

Then, if you are feeling bad because that's all the calories you burned for one hour of walking, console yourself with the fact that you burned 277,000 physics calories. 

A calorie in physics is different from a calorie in nutrition. Doherty explains that one food calorie (which should technically be spelled with a capital C) is 1,000 times bigger than one physicist's calorie (spelled with a small c). In other words, a food calorie is actually a kilocalorie (Kcal). It is the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celcius. Sometimes, the physics calorie is called a small calorie while the food calorie is called a big or large calorie. Whew! No wonder one website starts its definition of calories with an ice-breaker question: How many calories do you burn just trying to understand what a calorie is? 

So now you know that a cup of rice has 220,000 physics calories or in food terms, 220 Calories or 220 kilocalories.