Breathe well, live well
Loosen your belt and practise the healing power of breath as shown by Darshan Goswami, MS, PE
Without breath, there is no life. Breathing is a vital part of life. It helps deliver oxygen into your bloodstream and remove carbon dioxide. Two basic ways of breathing are chest breathing and deep breathing. With deep breathing (also called diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing), you always inhale and exhale through your nose, not your mouth. The breath should engage the diaphragm rather than the chest.
Breathing is influenced by thoughts and physiology which, in turn, can be influenced by breath. It is important to recognise that the mind, body, and breath are intimately connected and, therefore, equally impact our wellness. Learning to control our breath is one of the most powerful ways to enhance physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. You can understand essential truths about life by paying attention to your breath. Through the breath, you can also access deep states of effortless meditation.
The science of deep breathing
Most meditation techniques are based on deep breathing. In the ancient yogic teachings, this practice is called pranayama, or expanding the life force using the breath. The expression is derived from two Sanskrit words: prana (life force) and ayama (expansion). A fundamental principle of pranayama is to inhale through the nostrils. The yogic teachings contain many different pranayama exercises that can help you heal the body and focus the mind during meditation or yoga.
The physical benefits of deep breathing are often immediate. Deep breathing provides fresh oxygen to every cell of your body and stimulates the vagus nerve, which, in turn, activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS soothes and calms the body, which causes the blood capillaries to expand, allowing fresh oxygen to come into the blood and carbon dioxide, to leave. In addition, deep breathing can expand our lung capacity and lower our heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels. Deep breathing also has anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting, and sleep-regulating effects, and may even promote longevity.
A simple way to perform deep diaphragmatic breathing
Find a comfortable, quiet place. Lie down or sit with your back straight, knees bent, and your shoulders, head, and neck relaxed. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage (over your diaphragm) and take a slow, deep breath through your nose. The inhaled air should move downward into your lower belly. Let your abdomen expand fully. Hold the breath for two to three seconds, and exhale through your nose (mouth closed) while counting to four. Lower your hands as your abdomen deflates. Remember to relax your belly so that each inhalation expands it fully.
In the beginning, try practising this exercise for a minimum of five minutes at a time, at least twice a day. Gradually, add time each day until your sessions last approximately 15 minutes. With regular practice, you will not only train your body to breathe correctly but also increase your energy and vitality.
Pranayama breathing techniques
There are different types of breathing techniques, and each has a specific effect on mind-body physiology. While some of these exercises are simple enough to do on your own, having a health professional as a guide can be beneficial, especially if you are a beginner. Before you begin, make sure you are positioned comfortably with a straight spine.
Here are just a few basic breathing techniques used in yoga to help you get started:
• Kapalabhati (Skull Shining Breath): Sitting with back and neck straight, inhale through both nostrils and exhale forcefully (out of your nose), followed by slightly slower, passive inhalations. Each outward breath is propelled by a powerful thrust of the abdomen at a pace of about 60 breaths per minute (BPM). Following this thrust, the abdomen is quickly relaxed, and the breath flows back into the lungs, recoiling from the force of the exhalation. The inhalation is smooth and effortless.
• Bhastrika (Bellows Breath): This is one of the most invigorating breathing exercises in yoga. Inhale and exhale quickly and forcefully (without straining) by flapping the abdomen. This should be practised for up to 60 BPM.
• Alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana): Start by using the right thumb to close the right nostril and inhale through the left nostril. Hold your breath momentarily, close the left nostril, and exhale through the right nostril. While still holding the left nostril closed, inhale through the right nostril. Then, close the right nostril and breathe out through the left nostril. This completes one round, and the technique can be repeated for up to the desired number of rounds.
• Ujjayi (Psychic Breath): Inhalation and exhalation are performed through the nose at a normal pace, with partial contraction of the glottis, which produces a light snoring sound. Be mindful of the passage of breath through the throat during the exercise.
• Bhramari (Honeybee Humming Breath): After full inhalation, close both ears using the index fingers, and exhale making a soft humming sound similar to that of a honeybee.
Deep breathing is a powerful and simple tool for improving your health and well-being. Adults at rest normally take 12 to 16 BPM. Deep breathing involves drawing in more air at a controlled pace to reach a rate of about six breaths or fewer per minute. Always breathe and exhale from your nose and not the mouth, and inhale down to the diaphragm (abdomen). By regularly practising deep breathing, you will begin to breathe more effectively even without concentrating on it. Scientific research shows that learning to breathe correctly and consciously is one of the most effective ways to lower everyday stress levels and improve a variety of health factors ranging from mood to metabolism.
Deep breathing has already been proven in clinical trials to be an effective therapy for treating chronic anxiety, indigestion, and hypertension. In some cases, simply changing the way we breathe can blunt the symptoms of many chronic diseases. Today, some hospitals have begun teaching patients relaxation breathing for treating a wide range of conditions.
Breathing properly is a wonderful way to extend the duration and quality of your life. You can begin with five-minute segments, gradually increasing them to 15-minute sessions every day. And the best part—it’s free and literally right under your nose!
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