By P. Kumar
Break away from unhealthy breathing habits with the use of the simple, ancient technique of Three Step Rhythmic Breathing
You breathe every second of your life. But did you ever stop to wonder if you were breathing the right way? Or for that matter, did you know that the way you breathe can affect your blood circulation, energy levels, sleep patterns, moods, anxiety levels, your thought processes, indeed your entire existence? It’s also true that your breathing will be strongly affected by your lifestyle and the way you cope with stress —real or imagined. So if you are hooked on to junk food, love to work late hours, stress your mind beyond its limit and are usually tense, then your breathing can become distorted, strained or shallow, reducing the inhalation volume and affecting your entire system in the process.
Anger, fear, shock and depression also adversely affect breathing, which further affects every aspect of your health-mental, emotional and physical. We can break away from unhealthy breathing patterns and breathe our way to better health.
THREE STEP RHYTHMIC BREATHING
Ancient wisdom recognized the link between good health and breathing. There are various asanas in yoga that aid in correct breathing. There are also a number of breathing exercises like pranayama. However, these can be practiced for a short span of time and cannot help us to establish a correct pattern of breathing for all times. Here we can turn our attention to Sage Patanjali’s teachings, which stress the importance of Three Step Rhythmic Breathing (3 SRB), a breathing pattern that helps us ‘breathe in rhythm with nature’.
It is important to realize that 3 SRB is not a breathing exercise or an aid to correct breathing but is simply the natural way of breathing—one that we were born with. This is evident if we observe the breathing pattern of a healthy newborn who has the same rhythm of 3 SRB, albeit a bit faster. Somewhere along the way we lose track of this natural, rhythmic way of breathing and bring a host of problems to bear upon us.
A conscious and focused practice of 3 SRB will guide us back to this rhythmic way of breathing. The three steps of 3 SRB involve the technique, volume and rhythm of breathing.
• While breathing, both your chest and abdomen should rise and fall simultaneously.
• The chest will require more air because of the space created by the rib cage.
• The abdomen should not be blown up unnaturally during inhalation.
• To figure out if you are breathing correctly, get a friend to observe you or lie down before a mirror with two heavy books, one on the chest and the other on the abdomen.
• Check if both move together.
• Our habit of breathing from the lower part of the chest results in shallow breathing, depriving the body of much needed oxygen.
• When you breathe in, it is particularly important to note that the breath flows freely and fully from neck to navel. This simply means that the middle and lower abdomen should be filled to normal capacity.
• The volume of breath intake during 3 SRB should be the same as the intake during normal breathing.
• Continuous deep, heavy breathing can exhaust a person and is not recommended in 3 SRB.
• Initially, to establish the rhythm, your breath will be deeper, but once you are comfortable with 3 SRB and the volume of air that is to be drawn in, the breath will become normal.
• To establish the correct rhythm of breathing, inhalation should take three seconds and exhalation two seconds.
• To keep to the pattern of rhythmic breathing, do not retain the breath between inhaling and exhaling.
• One complete breath takes five seconds or six pulse beats. The exact rhythm is to count 1-2-3 while inhaling and 5-6 while exhaling-4 is not counted.
• Unlike breathing exercises, in normal breathing rhythm, the duration of inhalation is longer than that of exhalation.
To master 3 SRB, you must consciously work to complete 12 cycles of breath in a minute. Inhale to the count of 3, exhale to the count of 2, and repeat the cycle 12 times in one minute. Initially, as you sit down to observe your breathing pattern, you will find that you probably breathe beyond 18 cycles per minute. This can be reduced to the mandatory 12 breaths a minute with the practice of 3 SRB.
To start with, this rhythmic breathing can be practiced for a fixed duration during the day or night, till you learn to continue breathing in this manner all 24 hours of the day. You can work to increase the duration of your practice time by five minutes every fortnight till one hour of conscious 3 SRB is reached by six months. The time that it takes to turn this practice into a lifelong habit will vary from person to person.
It could take anything from two years to a lifetime. To facilitate this process, you can practice 3 SRB to taped music. Special tapes are available for this purpose. The advantage of working with 3 SRB in this manner is that soft music can play in the background, and you can practice rhythmic breathing even as you are lying, sitting, standing, walking or busying yourself with any mechanical chore. It is a good habit to switch on the soft, taped music at night and fall asleep while you practice 3 SRB.
This is to establish a continuity of 3 SRB from waking to sleeping hours and get you further habituated to breathing in this manner for a longer time. People spend a lifetime acquiring incorrect breathing habits, so you might find yourself slipping back into breathing the wrong way. Conscious striving and focused attention on the breath will help you get habituated to 3 SRB.
The more depressed you are, the dimmer are your chances of attaining this rhythm. If we sustain rhythmic breathing during situations that challenge and over-stimulate us, its positive effect on the blood circulation, thought processes, and indeed the whole neurophysiological system, will prevent impulsive or uncontrolled responses, helping us to act with calm deliberation.
I first came across this technique in 1993. It has helped me achieve a certain control over stray thoughts and focused my concentration. I also listen to the music cassettes on rhythmic breathing before sleeping. Besides quieting and regularizing the whole body-brain system, rhythmic breathing refines the thinking process and frees us from thoughts conditioned due to various extreme experiences. It further opens up higher possibilities of receiving new sources of energy.
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