Most of us don’t give a second thought to the way we breathe – it’s just something that we do subconsciously. And yet proper breathing is essential to good health and wellbeing. Poor breathing can cause us to feel fatigued, reduces alertness and can increase feelings of anxiety. However, breathing correctly can help to reduce stress and anxiety, improve our ability to exercise and can even help to boost our immunity.
By breathing properly we are giving our brain and other vital organs the right amount of oxygen and essential nutrients they need to function optimally. However, things such as stress, anxiety and poor posture can change the way in which we breathe.
When we are stressed we take short, sharp breaths only using the top third of our lungs. This is known as chest breathing. With this type of breathing we never fully empty the waste products from the deep recesses of our lungs where they accumulate. Breathing from the diaphragm, on the other hand, massages the abdominal organs, helps blood to pump through them and enables waste to move through the intestines.
Here are some breathing techniques you might want to try:
Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. As you inhale the hand on your abdomen should rise higher than the one on your chest. This ensures that the diaphragm is drawing air into the base of your lungs. Exhale through your mouth and then take a slow, deep breath in through your nose and hold it for a count of seven. Then exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of eight. As you do this, gently contract your abdominal muscles to completely expel all the air from your lungs. Repeat this exercise four more times.
Alternate nostril breathing
Also known as Nadi Shodhana, this is a yogic breathing exercise which helps to ease anxiety and tension and may even help if you suffer with insomnia. Begin by sitting in a comfortable, upright position. Raise your right hand to your face and place the tip of your index finger and middle finger between your eyebrows with your ring finger and little finger on your left nostril and your thumb on your right nostril. Using your thumb, close your right nostril and gently exhale through your left nostril. Then, inhale through your left nostril and close it using your ring finger and little finger. Remove your right thumb from your right nostril and exhale through your right nostril. Next, breathe in through your right nostril, close it using your thumb, remove your ring finger and little finger from you left nostril and exhale from the left. This is one round of alternate nostril breathing. Repeat the exercise for nine rounds. I find this to be particularly soothing as it sends the mind into an almost hypnotic state. I can see why it is said to help with insomnia.
Also known as the Ocean breath, this is a yogic breathing exercise which is known for the soft hissing sound you make when you practise it. Ujjayi breathing increases oxygen intake, slows the breath and helps to increase energy so is particularly good if you are feeling fatigued or sluggish. Begin by inhaling and exhaling deeply through the mouth. As you exhale, slightly constrict the passage of air as if you are fogging up a mirror. As you become used to this, begin to apply the same technique to the in-breaths. When you are able to control the throat on both the inhale and the exhale, close your mouth and begin breathing through your nose using the same technique.
I hope you find these breathing techniques useful. They may take quite a bit of practice, but you can be assured that they will benefit your health and wellbeing.