During constricted chest breathing both inhalation and exhalation are hesitaut and tentative. This breathing pattern is not common among experienced yoga students, who have a large repertoire of more useful forms of breathing, but you see it occasionally in beginning classes. And once in a while during the course of a classroom demonstration you'll even hear someone say "That's how I always breathe!" The abnormal upper body tension associated with this form of breathing is palpable—both literally and figuratively-—in faces, necks, and shoulders.
Habitual chest breathing not only reflects physical and mental problems, it creates them. It mildly but chronically overstimulates the sympathetic nervous system, keeping the heart rate and blood pressure too high, precipitating difficulties with digestion and elimination, and causing cold and clammy hands and feet. In common usage chest breathing is known as "shallow" breathing, and if you watch people breathe in this fashion for any length of time you will notice that every once in a while they will sigh, yawn, or take a much deeper breath to bring in more air.
If you really want to understand shallow breathing you have to experiment with yourself. In either a supine or upright posture, try taking 20-^0 constricted thoracic breaths, lifting only the upper part of the chest. Be careful not to move the abdomen, and try to keep the lower part of the chest from moving. To do this you have to keep the abdominal wall rigid and hold the lower part of the sternum and the lower ribs still. If you are healthy this will io6 ANATOMY UF HATHA YOGA
give you an unusual and unsettling feeling, and pretty soon you'll have ai irresistible urge to take a deep breatb—if not two or three. You'll wondt how anyone could possibly develop this breathing pattern as a lifetime habit
Chest breathers often leel short of breath because constricted thoraci breathing pulls most of the air into the upper portions of the lungs. Bu when we are upright it is the lower portions of the lungs that get most i the blood supply. Why? The pulmonary circulation to the lungs is a low pressure, low-resistance circuit in which the average pressure in th pulmonary arteries is only 14 mm Hg. By contrast, the pressure in arterit of the systemic circulation averages about 100 mm Hg (chapter 8). The 1 . mm Hg pulmonary arterial pressure is more than enough to perfuse blot 1 into the lower parts of the lungs, but it is inadequate to push the blood in the upper parts of the lungs. This means that when you are takii constricted thoracic inhalations, you are bringing the bulk of the air in the parts of the lungs that are most poorly supplied with blood. You cai t make efficient use of the extra ventilation to the upper parts of the lun. because of the poor circulation, and yet you get scanty ventilation to tJ lower parts of the lungs that are getting the bulk of the blood supply. It no wonder those who breathe thoracically need to take occasional breal that will fill their lungs from top to bottom.
The disadvantages of constricted chest breathing are ordinarily em pi -sized, but this mode of breathing is occasionally necessary. If you shot I happen to overindulge in a holiday meal and then follow it up with a r T dessert, try taking a walk. You will notice that the restricted form f thoracic breathing is the only comfortable way you can breathe. A five-m e walk can be useful, but the last thing you'll want to do en route is to pr s against your stomach with your diaphragm (figs. 2.9 and 2.29b).
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