Q: Like many American yogis, I strive for balance. So after a good session of hatha yoga and pranayama, there’s nothing like a beer and a cigarette. The Western medical system says booze and smokes are bad for me—what do you say? ~ Nick Rosen, senderfilms.com
A: No doubt we are all victims of propaganda, which may be one of the reasons you are compelled to reach for a beer and a smoke after yoga. There is research that suggests that a drink or two a day may be good for your heart—but I have never seen a good argument for the benefits of smoking—and there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.
The question I have is why, after a session of yoga, do you still need stress-reducing props such as cigarettes and beer? Yoga and pranayama [breathing exercises] are some of the best stress reducers out there—they should leave you relaxed, calm and satisfied. Perhaps we can look at how you are doing your yoga. It is common, these days, for yoga to be a pretty intense workout, replacing aerobics or cardio. Remember: yoga means “union”—mind and body are united during the practice instead of the mind pushing the body to do something it doesn’t want to do.
Next time you go to yoga, try breathing deeply in and out, only through the nose. If you have to open your mouth during yoga, you’re exerting too much—back off a bit. When you breathe through the nose, the air is routed through the turbinates, which drive air into the lower lobes of the lungs where there is a concentration of calming and rejuvenating nerves. Most of us, when we exercise and do yoga, end up huffing and puffing through the mouth. The upper lungs are riddled with stress receptors, so you end up more stressed afterward—which might explain the desire for that relaxing beer and smoke. You might feel as if you’re suffocating, at first—I promise that in just a few weeks you’ll be breathing calmly through your nose, getting all those stress reducing benefits of yoga. For more, you can check out my book, Body, Mind and Sport.
Author of four Ayurvedic health and fitness books, DR. JOHN DOUILLARD directs LifeSpa, an Ayurvedic rejuvenation center in Boulder, Colorado, where he lives with his wife and six children: lifespa.com