Benefits of Practicing External Kumbhaka
External Kumbhaka (“retention”) is a breathing exercise that is extremely useful for reducing mental anxiety, panic attacks, hyperventilation, allergies, and asthma. The description of the practice is located here.
The purpose of external breath retention is to gently introduce the body to “air hunger.” Air hunger is the feeling that you are not quite getting enough air and you would like to take a slightly bigger breath. Air hunger is accomplished by holding the breath on the exhale for short periods of time (5 seconds or so).
When practicing External Kumbhaka, two important biochemical processes occur:
1) The gas nitric oxide (NO), which is produced in the nasal cavity, gathers inside the nose. When inhaling air through the nose after holding the breath, the pooled nitric oxide is carried by the airstream into the lower lungs where it enters the blood. The greatest concentration of pulmonary blood is in the lower part of the lungs. It should be noted that the oxygen inhaled through mouth-breathing primarily enters only the upper part of the lungs and does not carry any nitric oxide into the lungs (since nitric oxide is produced in the nose and mouth-breathing bypasses the nasal cavity entirely).
The benefits of nitric oxide include:
· regulating vascular tone
(the opening and closing of blood vessels)
· increasing oxygen uptake in the blood
· regulating homeostasis of the body
(maintaining physiological balance to remain alive)
· lowering blood pressure
· acting as a neurotransmitter
(intercellular signaling in neurons)
· regulating the immune system
2) The second important biochemical process that occurs in your body by holding your breath for short periods of time is that the gas carbon dioxide (CO2) slightly increases in the blood. Carbon dioxide acts as a catalyst for the release of oxygen, carried in the blood by the protein hemoglobin. The released oxygen converts the glucose stored in our body (from the carbohydrates, proteins, and fats contained in the food we have eaten) into a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This ATP stores energy in our cells and releases it when necessary.
The brain is the highest consumer of ATP in our body. Simply put, with more CO2 in our bloodstream, more energy is produced in our body. Whenever you feel lethargic and need more energy, simply practice External Kumbhaka for a few minutes and/or take a dropper-full of Apollo’s Lyre Cordyceps Extract.
In addition, CO2 is a natural antihistamine, preventing our cells from unnecessarily releasing histamine into our bloodstream. Histamine, a chemical located in our mast cells (white blood cells found in the connective tissues throughout our body) is released into our blood whenever we experience allergic reactions. An allergic reaction is our immune system’s hypersensitive reaction to a (usually) harmless foreign substance such as pet dander, household dust, mold, plants, and pollen.
In attempting to protect the body, the immune system releases histamines which act on a person’s eyes, ears, nose, throat, lungs, skin, or digestive system, causing “allergy symptoms.” These symptoms are not produced by the mentioned foreign substances, but by our body’s own histamine. With more CO2 in our bloodstream, the less histamine is released into our body and the less we experience allergies.
More information regarding external retention breathing exercises and their benefits, from a western point of view, can be found in Patrick McKeown’s The Breathing Cure: Develop New Habits for a Healthier, Happier, and Longer Life (Humanix Books, 2021).
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (Yogi Publications Trust, 2002) provides numerous breathing retention exercises, both internal and external, along with their purported health benefits from the eastern yogic point of view.
The description of the practice is located here.