Importance of Practicing Proper Breathing in Yoga

The breathing techniques in yoga are inextricably linked with its physical exercises. This FitnessVigil article tells you more about why these breathing techniques are so important.
FitnessVigil Staff
Breathe... Breathe in the Air!
Insufficient intake of oxygen is linked to cancer, while mouth-breathing leaves you prone to microbial infections, and can damage the thyroid gland.

Yoga is an ancient Indian exercise that is helpful not only for the body, but also for the mind. It is a complete exercise that strengthens your bones and muscles, and helps keep off the buildup of harmful fat. Yoga is massively helpful for the practitioner psychologically, since proper breathing techniques in yoga impart a calm, mindful personality.
The importance of breathing exercises as calming psychological tools is not a new find. It's been promoted by various cultures for centuries. However, yoga is probably the only major form of exercise to include both strenuous physical activities and a deliberate emphasis on breathing techniques.
Traditionally, the breathing technique in yoga is considered to be beneficial spiritually. Oxygen is considered as prana (life/life-giver) in yogic traditions. It resonates with the fact that we simply can't survive without oxygen. With each breath, we inhale the eternal energy, which purifies our body. The much-publicized chakra system, described in yogic scriptures, has a close relationship with this. The chest chakra, Anahat chakra, is one of the seven vital chakras in our body. This chakra gets purer with every life-giving breath.
But even without wading into the murky waters of spirituality, the breathing techniques in yoga are known to maximize its physical benefits, and make the practitioner calmer and more composed.
How does proper breathing help?
Breathing (inhaling) is the first part of the much larger and vital process of cell respiration. The human body is a teeming mass of trillions of cells, the building blocks of life. These cells need oxygen for respiration, which produces energy. The byproduct of respiration is carbon dioxide, the expulsion of which constitutes the second part of 'breathing'―exhaling.
If the necessary amount of oxygen is not inhaled, and all the carbon dioxide in the system is not exhaled, the body no longer works at an optimum level. Deep breathing techniques often only emphasize deep inhaling, without concentrating on thorough exhaling. When both these conditions are achieved, cellular respiration runs at its smoothest.
Practicing proper deep breathing in a yoga routine helps in two ways: It increases oxygen intake, and helps you remain relaxed.
As explained before, oxygen is irreplaceable in the generation of energy required in the body. During any exercise routine, the need for oxygen is elevated, since the body's cells are subjected to higher stress than usual. Athletes inevitably resort to short, rapid breaths to get the required amount of oxygen. This mode of breathing elevates the heart rate, and often signals a release of adrenaline. It results in an incomplete expulsion of carbon dioxide from the body, since taking fresh breaths becomes the higher priority. These conditions are counterproductive in a yoga routine.
Deep, diaphragmatic breathing, advised in most yoga systems, helps maximize the body's oxygen intake, and also ensures that carbon dioxide is virtually completely removed from the body. Practicing this mode of breathing during an exercise routine allows for the maximum possible intake of oxygen, and leaves the practitioner wholly refreshed.
The calming effect of this kind of breathing technique is a well-known psychological effect, and is widely practiced informally. As explained before, breathing is inherently related to elevating the heart rate, and secreting adrenaline. Complete, deep breathing is an oft-neglected aspect of well-being. Breathing is such a vital activity that the medulla oblongata, a neural organ at the base of the brain, controls it without us being aware of it. When we 'concentrate' on breathing, breathing is controlled through the conscious cerebral cortex of the brain. This not only ensures that proper breathing technique is observed, but also leaves no chance for stressful, unwanted thoughts to enter our mind. This is psychologically the most useful aspect of yoga.
These physiological and psychological benefits are gained through practicing proper breathing techniques while performing yoga. Yoga breathing is a skill that is mastered when it is constantly implemented which, later on, can help the Yoga practitioner achieve clarity of mind.