Being aware of how we breathe is one of the most important things that we can do to keep healthy. By focusing on your breath, your mind automatically relaxes and focuses. This helps relaxation and reducing stress. Deep breathing also helps you to get more oxygen into your bloodstream and helps you to expel more waste products such as carbon dioxide. This also helps to reduce stress as well as creating more energy.
As a yoga teacher I have learned the difference that 'breathing concentration' can make to your overall health. As well as energy, it can regulate your blood and cardio function, increase lung capacity and therefore increase the amount of oxygen you take in and consequently transfer to your organs for optimal function and healing. It can both calm and invigorate you at the same time. It can focus your mind and steady your body and balance.
Yogic breathing in particular incorporates specific breathing focus and practice. Our life is so dependent on breathing. Our energy balance is determined by our breathing rate, depth and quality. Therefore, our breathing process needs to be optimized, not taken for granted.
So, how do we breathe?
When we inhale, our blood takes up oxygen and releases carbon dioxide, plus toxins that are gathered by the blood from other parts of body. The action of breathing is automated by the responses generated by our brain. However, the breathing process can be transformed into a semi-voluntary muscle by an effort of will. What this means is that we have the power to control our breathing.
Most people don't breathe correctly, or adequately. Breathing is something we just 'do', every second of every day, without much, if any, thought. Modern and sedentary lifestyles often result in people only shallow breathing on a day to day basis. Shallow breathing doesn't give you enough oxygen intake and can inhibit the elimination of toxins. This leads to lethargy, drowsiness and disease.
You will notice that people under stress or suffering from chronic disease, generally need more oxygen, and if they are not used to deep breathing their breathing rate will increase considerably.
An average person breathes 12 to 15 times in a minute. An ideal yogic breathing, for example, would be somewhere around 5 breaths per minute. Rhythmic or concentrated breathing can help to achieve this.
One of the requirements of correct breathing is to breathe through the nose, and avoid mouth breathing. During mouth breathing, there is no filter to prevent dust particles from reaching the lungs. Nostrils serve as a filter to remove impurities in the air and warm up the inhaled air so that cold air does damage our throat and lungs.
Exhalation is just as important as inhalation...during exhalation you need to try to expel as much used air as possible from the lungs. At the end of each exhalation you normally get a natural 'pause' before your next breath is taken. This is important as this 'pause' is the nervous system's way of preparing for the next breath, and optimizes the potential of the lungs to take in as much oxygen as they can on the next in-breath.
By becoming aware of your breathing, you can improve it. Rhythmic deep breathing during the course of day, without strain to your body, will become deep and relaxed. Deep breathing can be done even by busy people during the normal course of your day.
More oxygen rich blood will get to your brain, heart, lungs and digestive organs as a result of correct breathing. This helps to slow down your heart rate, and lower blood pressure, helping organs to work better and your mind to balance and release stress. It can also help you to improve lymph system flow to rid of toxins correctly and completely.
Yogic breathing techniques are also extremely effective in handling depression and anxiety.
How Do I Alter My Natural Breathing Process?
By training our body to breathe in a particular fashion, we re-program our involuntary system to adopt a new way of breathing. Here are some tips from a reliable breathing exercise company to start you off...
First, lay down on your back, relaxed, with hands and legs outstretched and eyes closed.
Step 1: Abdominal breathing
Observe your natural breath. You will notice that as you inhale the abdomen rises and then falls with exhalation. Watch this for a few moments to check this flow. Now begin to deepen, lengthen and extend that movement. That is, while inhaling, let the abdomen rise to its limit and at exhalation let it fall completely. Keep the chest still during this entire process – only move the abdomen. Continue this for 20 breaths and then rest.
Step 2: Thoracic (chest) breathing
Again observe your normal breath, this time focusing your attention on the chest. You will notice the chest moving slightly up at inhalation and down with exhalation. Again observe this pattern for a few moments. Now again, begin to deepen, lengthen and extend that movement. This time, on inhalation expand and lift the rib cage, filling the lungs completely. Then on exhalation, let the lungs collapse fully, sinking to the limits. In this step, keep the abdomen still, moving only the chest. Do this for 20 breath cycles and then stop.
Step 3: Full Yogic breathing
This combines the above 2 steps in the following way:
First inhale by filling the abdomen and then continue inhaling as you expand and fill the chest. Then exhale first from the chest as it empties and falls and then continue in one flow to exhale from the abdomen as it draws inwards completely. This is one round of the full yogic breath. Repeat this for 20 rounds.
Remember the pattern: Inhaling - abdomen then chest…Exhaling – chest then abdomen.
Make sure that all of three above steps are done WITHOUT any feeling of strain or discomfort. The natural tendency is to heave with effort. The right way however is to make it smooth and effortless. Go slow and easy.
Initially you will experience unevenness or bumps in this breathing process – as if there are 4 separate parts to the full yogic breath. This is natural considering the years we have spent breathing improperly.
Instead, try to picture this breath as a continuous wave like pattern – as if the breath moves up from the navel to the throat with every inhalation and then, down from the throat to the navel with each exhalation. It may take a few weeks of practice to perfect a smooth flowing pattern. Over time the yoga way of breathing will come naturally to you.
The benefits of this type of exercise include:
- Releasing acute and chronic muscular tensions around the heart and digestive organs.
- Helping sufferers of respiratory illnesses such as asthma and emphysema to overcome the fear of shortness of breath. It actually increases lung capacity.
- Encouraging proper nervous stimulus to the cardio-vascular system.
- Dramatically reducing emotional and nervous anxiety.
- Improving detoxification through increased exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen.
- Amplifying the auto immune system by increased distribution of energy to the endocrine system.
- Calming the mind and integrates the mental / physical balance.
With such powerful all-round benefits, do you really need to be further motivated to get going?!
Some Medical Facts Affected By Breathing:
- Science has proven that cancer is anaerobic - it does not survive in high levels of oxygen.
- Shortness of breath and heart disease are directly linked - the heart goes into spasm when it is deprived of oxygen.
- Studies have shown that there is a high correlation between high blood pressure and poor breathing.
- Most emotional issues, including anxiety and depression, result from the nervous system being out of balance. Breathing drives the nervous system.
- Optimal breathing helps to promote weight loss. Oxygen burns fat and calories.
- Breathing well is the key to sleeping well and waking up feeling rested.
- Breathing provides 99% of your energy. Without energy, nothing works!
- Virtually every health condition and human activity is improved with optimal breathing.
- Clinical studies prove that oxygen, wellness, and life-span are totally dependent on proper breathing. Lung volume is a primary marker for how long you will live. Lung tests are critical to staying healthy.
- Breathing supplies over 99 percent of your entire oxygen and energy supply. Poor breathing causes or worsens chronic maladies such as asthma, allergies, anxiety, fatigue, depression, headaches, heart conditions, high blood pressure, sleep loss, obesity, harmful stress, poor mental clarity plus hundreds of other lesser known but equally harmful conditions. ALL diseases are caused or worsened by poor breathing.
- The average person reaches peak respiratory function and lung capacity in their mid-20s. Then they begin to lose respiratory capacity: between 10 percent and 27 percent for every decade of life! So, unless you are doing something to maintain or improve your breathing capacity, it will decline, and with it, your general health, your life expectancy, and for that matter, your spirit as well.
Reconnecting with your breathing is the first step in the direction of self-healing.