Breathing for Breast Health
Did you know yoga and breathing can affect breast health? The relationship between breast health and the practice of yoga and specific Ayurvedic breathing or pranayama techniques has been well established.1-5
Many studies find both yoga and pranayama lead to significant increase in oxygen saturation.1 Modern humans are overly efficient in breathing oxygen, but chronically inefficient in maintaining necessary levels of carbon dioxide. In fact, 75% of the oxygen we breath in, we breathe right out, unused.17
Quick, shallow, overzealous mouth breathing exhales CO2, when actually higher levels are needed to saturate the tissues with oxygen. When CO2 stays low, due to overbreathing oxygen, oxygen stays in the blood, bound to hemoglobin, and never reaches the tissues, which can lead to tissue hypoxia. Ayurvedic breathing techniques have been shown to reverse this imbalance of CO2 and oxygen.
Studies show when there is tissue hypoxia (low oxygen saturation), say, in the breast tissue, cells are vulnerable to damage, mutagenic stem cells, increased expression of drug-resistant genes, reduced expression of DNA-repair genes, and increased genomic instability.1
In one three-month study on the practice of yoga asanas, pranayama, and meditation, with 42 male volunteers, there was a significant increase in total antioxidant status. Glutathione peroxidase significantly increased, while oxidized or damaged compounds decreased, compared to the control group.1
Other studies on pranayama breathing techniques demonstrate significant improvements.
Benefits of Pranayama1
- Increased tissue oxygen saturation
- Decreased blood lactate
- Apoptosis: healthy timed cell death
- Lengthened telomeres: a marker of less stress and longevity
- Significant increase in total antioxidants
Breath Retention (Intermittent Hypoxia) Benefits
According to the original yogic texts, what makes a breathing technique a pranayama is breath retention or kumbhaka. In Western science, benefits of breath retention have been thoroughly studied under the name intermittent hypoxia.
Benefits of breath retention include:24,25
- boosting stem cells
- increased nitric oxide
- more EPO (erythropoietin)
- increased vascular endothelial growth factors
- healthy inflammation response
- metabolic and obesity support
- transcription factors that protect the genome, while powerfully lowering blood pressure and blood sugar
- Increased neuroplasticity addressing underlying emotional issues
Clearly, all these benefits will support optimal breast health and breast prevention.
According to Ayurveda, lymph or rasa is evaluated before blood or rakta. In the West, blood tests are the first-line diagnostics. In Ayurveda, evaluation of lymph comes first.
What are lymphatics? Simply put, they act as drains for metabolic waste, while the arteries are faucets, delivering nutrients and oxygen to every cell. Healthy blood flow depends on healthy lymphatic drainage.
You can see in the image below that the breast is surrounded by lymphatic tissue and lymph nodes. Women diagnosed with breast cancer have a 99% five-year survival rate when there is no lymphatic involvement.6
Role of the Lymphatic System in Breast Health
The lymphatic system is the largest circulatory system of the body. Some of the lymphatic system’s primary functions include:7-11
- Drainage of toxins, waste, and undigested fats and proteins
- Regulating fluid balance (edema)
- Carries and regulates immune system
- Delivers fats as baseline energy to every cell (linking lymph congestion to chronic fatigue)
- When congested, lymph will store undigested fats and fat-soluble hormones and environmental toxins in fat cells, including breast tissue
Lymph is not pumped by the heart, yet all lymphatics deliver their payload back to the heart, where it reenters the circulatory system. Blood circulates into capillaries, which diffuse into extracellular spaces as plasma or lymph. Lymph, along with blood, circulates back to the heart. Lymphatics circulate via gravity, pressure differentials, and muscular contractions.
Role of the Diaphragm in Breast Health
The diaphragm is one of the forgotten muscles. It contracts 26,000 times a day and is the major muscle of inspiration. If the diaphragm is prematurely fatiguing or not contracting fully—which is common12—the ribcage will not fully expand and associated lymphatics will not be efficiently pumped.
Full diaphragmatic contraction (inhale) and relaxation (exhale) are responsible for lymphatic drainage of the peritoneum or abdominal cavity.13 Breathing is one of our main lymphatic pumps, so if respiration is incomplete, lymph drainage will be compromised, leading to swelling, congestion, or fat in the waist, hips, thighs, arms, or breasts, where there is a predominance of available fat for storage of lymph-based toxins.14
In one study, a significant number of breast health-related patients had congestion in both axillary and anterior diaphragmatic lymph nodes, suggesting optimal contraction and full relaxation of the diaphragm with each breath may support healthier lymphatic function not only in the abdominal cavity and diaphragm, but in and around the breast.23
In hospitals around the world, a technique called inspiratory muscle training (or pratiloma in Ayurveda) has been used to enhance diaphragmatic function.
Results of Inspiratory Muscle Training (Pratiloma)15,16
- Increased congestive heart health
- Boosted lung health
- Support for upper digestive issues
- Decreased rates of asthma
- Decreased pulmonary edema
- Decreased risk of congestive heart failure
- Support for gastrointestinal reflux (GERD)
- And more
Practice this pratiloma video twice a day for optimal breast health.
We RecommendBreathe Away Occasional Heartburn Ayurvedically
Studies on Breathing for Breast Health
According to Ayurveda, breast health is linked to lymphatic function as a drain for toxic estrogens, fat-soluble toxins, and environmental pollutants. When lymph becomes congested, it can lead to a host of breath health-related symptoms. In addition to the studies mentioned above, studies on breathing for breath health have found the following:
- Decreased fatigue18
- Emotional support19
- Pain reduction20
- Stress reduction20
- Decreased breast-related lymph congestion21
- Extended lifespan22
How do you care for your breast health? Have you tried breath holds and inspiratory muscle training? Let us know in the comments below.