The Healing Power of the Breath
There are innumerable ways in which our body, mind, and spirit are connected. Breath is the most palpable form of the body and is also the basis of all life. Breathwork, deep breathing, and practices like Pranayama are seen to hugely impact and improve a person’s mental health. There is a direct link between our breath and emotions. Every emotional experience in the body finds its equivalent rhythm in breath. All these facts support and establish the healing power of the breath. There is a Sanskrit proverb that says, “For breath is life; if you breathe well you will live long on the earth.” Ancient yogic breathing techniques regulate breath, our vital life force energy, and give one a holistic-healing experience on one’s overall well-being. And so, these must be practiced as a part of our routine. Although, it is best to first learn them under a certified or a well-experienced trainer. Essentially, any kind of breathwork oxygenates the body so much, thus enhancing the general functioning of all the important processes occurring in various parts of the body.
Breath increases one’s inner strength by a large magnitude and that is the reason that so many athletes, sports players, swimmers, dancers, singers, actors, actors, yogis, etc. pay so much attention to the process of correct breathing and also elongating their breath through many methods.
Now, is there something actually known as ‘Correct breathing’?
And the answer is ‘Yes!
Diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing is known to be the most accurate and also very efficient way of breathing. It means fully engaging the stomach, abdominal muscles, and diaphragm when breathing by the contraction of or actively pulling the diaphragm down with each inhalation of breath. This helps our lungs to expand and fill them with more air (oxygen), making each breath slow, smooth, and long. Diaphragmatic breathing is also a very conscious way to breathe as opposed to chest breathing which is unconscious and is what we normally do. Also, it is short and shallow.
Also, why is it important to breathe correctly?
The answer is because every system of the body relies on oxygen; from cognition to digestion, effective breathing is required for optimal body functioning, as also mentioned above.
The benefits of doing diaphragmatic breathing are:
1. It gives greater clarity of mind
2. It helps one sleep better and deeper
3. It digests our food more efficiently
4. It improves our immunity response to all kinds of infections
5. It is strongly believed to reduce stress levels
6. It strengthens our diaphragm muscle and abdominal muscles
7. It slows the breathing rate
8. It lowers the heart rate and blood pressure thus, increasing the cardiovascular health of an individual
9. It promotes relaxation
10. It helps to reduce mental issues like anxiety, anger management issues, phobias, etc.
11. It leads to a general sense of pleasantness in the body and the attainment of autonomic balance
12. It also elongates the breath, making it smoother, more rhythmic and even, relaxed, and non-jerky
Now, one can change their usual non-diaphragmatic way of breathing and train oneself to breathe more deeply and consciously at all times. This can be done by actively practicing diaphragmatic breathing, even if it is for few minutes, every day. One can follow these instructions given below to practice basic diaphragmatic breathing and also to practical experience the healing power of the breath:
• Before going to sleep and waking up, place your right hand on your upper abdomen, with the little finger directly above the navel and other fingers spread so that the thumb is almost touching the chest.
• Place your left hand on the upper chest and the little finger between the two breasts
• As you breathe, concentrate on the air moving down into the upper abdomen (as if your stomach is filling with breath)
• The right hand should rise with the inhalation and fall with the outward exhalation; the left hand should not move very much
• You should feel a slight motion in the lower portion of the chest cavity, but the upper portion must remain really still.
• Within a few moments, you will become more rested and very quiet. Do not try to force the breath. Allow the breath to be gentle and effortless.
• Notice how easy it is to breathe deeply and easily, without any effort.
• While these above steps can be done in standard positions like sitting straight on the edge of a chair or on the floor on a folded blanket placed beneath the sitting bones, it can also be done while lying down
• On a flat surface, one can also try to practice diaphragmatic breathing by reclining and facing towards the ground
• Fold both the arms and cross them over each other, the head should be gently rested on one arm/hand
• The chest must be lifted not touching the ground, and the abdomen should touch the ground
• The legs should be spread wide open with toes pointing outwards
• One must notice the rhythmic rise and fall of the stomach while breathing
While one may not achieve breathing diaphragmatically at all times overnight or at once but slowly and gradually, a little day-to-day practice of it can help one develop and incorporate it into their habitual breathing pattern.
Below is a list of some helpful breathing exercises or techniques which explain the true age-old art of breathing and the healing power of the breath:
• Bhastrika Pranayama or bellows breathing
• Kapalbhati Pranayama or skull shining breathing
• Bhramri Pranayama or bee breathing
• Anulom vilom/ Nadi Shodhana or alternate nostril breathing
• Ujjayi Pranayama aka victorious breath
• Practice Yogic Asanas or postures with mindful, slow, and deep breathing
It is recommended for one to go into the detailed and deep study of each of these practices through Yoga, meditation courses, and other training sessions under the supervision of a master. In today’s time of fast pacing and stressful world, one can come across so many schools and teachers teaching such breathing exercises. One great school of Yoga is The Himalayan Yoga Tradition at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama, Rishikesh. It teaches the authentic, systematic, detailed, scientific, very deep, and wide study of Yoga, meditation, and self-healing. It has a lineage of some great sages and masters like Swami Rama and Swami Veda Bharati.
According to the teachings of The Himalayan Yoga Tradition, a yogic breathing pattern suitable for meditation will have a slow rate, large tidal volume, longer exhalation than inhalation, smoother, the primary use of the diaphragm and lower external intercostal muscles and be nasal.
An individual’s metabolism will generally determine the amount of air sucked in per minute (minute ventilation) which is required during normal breathing. This can be achieved either by fast shallow breaths or longer deeper breaths. In yoga, longer deeper breaths are preferred with a longer exhalation than inhalation. This appears to decrease the degree of sympathetic activation by some amount (i.e. the flight or fight response) and as the relaxation response proceeds, the metabolism itself usually slows down allowing the minute ventilation to decrease. Furthermore, slower and deeper breaths appear to be more efficient in terms of gas exchange even though the mechanical energy required to achieve this form of breathing is often greater. Diaphragmatic breathing has alternative and oversimplified names like thoracic breathing or abdominal breathing.
Finally, Breath is no less than a miracle. Its many positive effects reaffirm that the healing power of the breath is so legit.
Here are some quick benefits pointed out below, offered by breath:
- Deep breathing causes something known as Pranic healing, which is developing an energy bio-system or treatment by balancing, harmonizing, and transforming the body’s energy processes, by the use of Prana, the Sanskrit equivalent of life’s vital force or breath
- Deep breathing has a pacifying and calming effect on the mind
- Breath is a connecting link between the body and the consciousness and if used properly, it can help one achieve higher states of the mind
- Breathing well and fully promotes excellent health and immunity
- Breathing properly balances one’s hormonal and emotional response to all kinds of stresses
- Greater oxygenation of blood in the nerve capillaries in the brain through constant breathwork leads to purification and refinement of mental and emotional responses to any external situation
- Greater oxygenation of blood in our body, in general, helps release more toxins from the body thus, cleaning the body
- Deep breathing has a strongly positive impact on depression and anxiety
- Breathing acts as an anchor for us to stay in this moment and it avoids the racing of the mind in the past and future
- Breathing slowly and deeply can even free one of their pain and suffering as it can heal emotional wounds by creating a space between the identification with the mind and the real self
- It nourishes our soul
- It helps one see things clearly and also just as they are
- It deepens one’s connection between them and their highest self
- On the outside, it energizes a person, also boosting their enthusiasm towards life and all its components thus, enhancing one’s capacity to work and be productive
- It gives one a happier, more meaningful, and joyful perception of things in life
- It can help one find some great ideas, realizations, epiphanies, and Eureka or Aha moments in those deep-long sighs
- It also speeds up the process of finding good and precise solutions to difficult tasks and problems at hand
- It makes it easier for anyone to go within and meditate
- It gives one time and space to re-consider wisely, introspect, contemplate, and ponder over one’s choices and also their subsequent consequences, related to important life decisions.
Breath is like a ‘Gentle Super Power ‘available to us at all times; It has a healing nature for sure but is also like a protecting shield if paid attention to as it carries some deep intelligence and insightful seeds of thoughtfulness and awareness while opening us to the potent vitality of the NOW.
A simple remembrance to bring one’s attention to the breath, time and again, does so much self-work for you and saves you of unnecessary time and energy drainage, worry, and trouble.
Thank you for reading, signing off with a little reminder for you to take a deep, cleansing, & conscious breath and slowly exhale it out
About the author-
Navni Chawla is a correspondent and content writer with Life Positive. She had started with writing a blog and often used writing as a means to consult her deeper self. The process in itself was calming and healing to her. She has also written a compilation of poems and wishes to pursue fictional storytelling ahead. Her other passions include cooking, singing, being in front of the camera, and the most adored one being, life itself; leading it from a child’s heart. Being a yoga practitioner herself and also a certified level-1 Yoga teacher from SRSG, Rishikesh, She has included some technical information in this article from the source HYT-TTP’s (Himalayan Yoga Tradition- Teacher Training Program) study handouts manual, which was used in her level-1 retreat workshop.