Breathing Your Way to Good Health
You can help alleviate stress through the simple practice of yogic breathing. Among other things, breathing loads your blood with oxygen, which maintains your health at the most desirable level. Shallow breathing doesn't oxygenate your blood very efficiently. Consequently, toxins pile up in the cells. Before you know it, you feel sluggish and down, and eventually organs begin to malfunction. Is it any wonder that the breath is the best tool you have to profoundly affect your body and mind?
Bad breathing isn't as easy to cure as bad breath: You must retrain your body through breath awareness.
Taking high-quality breaths
Before you jump right in and make drastic changes to your method of breathing, take a few minutes to assess your current breathing style. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is my breathing shallow?
- Do I often breathe erratically?
- Do I easily get out of breath?
- Is my breathing labored at times?
- Do I generally breathe too fast?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, try yogic breathing. Even if you didn't answer yes, conscious breathing still benefits your mind and body.
By the way, men take an average of 12 to 14 breaths per minute, while women take 14 to 15.
Relaxing with a couple of deep breaths
Think about the many times you've heard someone say "Now just take a couple of deep breaths and relax." Well, it really works! Yogic breathing is like sending a fax to your nervous system with the message to relax.
Try the following exercise:
1. Sit comfortably in a chair.
2. Close your eyes and visualize a swan gliding peacefully across a crystal-clear lake.
3. Now, like the swan, let your breath flow along in a long, smooth, and peaceful movement. Ideally, inhale and exhale through your nose.
4. Extend your breath to its comfortable maximum for 20 rounds; then gradually let your breath return to normal.
5. Afterward, take a few moments to sit with your eyes closed and notice the difference in how you feel overall.
Practicing safe yogic breathing
Here are a few safety tips to help you enjoy your experience.
- If you have problems with your lungs (such as a cold or asthma) or heart disease, consult your physician before embarking on breath control, even under the supervision of a Yoga therapist.
- Don't practice breathing exercises when the air is too cold or too hot.
- Don't strain your breathing — remain relaxed while doing the breathing exercises.
- Don't overdo the number of repetitions.
- Don't wear any constricting pants or belts.
Reaping the benefits of yogic breathing
In addition to relaxing the body and calming the mind, yogic breathing has a spectrum of other benefits. Here are some:
- It steps up your metabolism (the best way to prevent weight increase).
- It uses muscles that automatically improve your posture.
- It keeps the lung tissue elastic, which allows you to take in more oxygen.
- It tones your abdominal area.
- It strengthens your immune system.
- It reduces your levels of tension and anxiety.
The late T. Krishnamacharya — one of the great Yoga masters — is a classic illustration of the benefits of yogic breathing. On his 100th birthday celebration, he initiated the ceremony with a 30-second-long continuous chant. He also sat perfectly straight on the floor for many hours every day during the festivities, which lasted several days. Not bad for a centenarian!
Breathing through the nose
No matter what anybody tells you, yogic breathing is typically done through the nose, both during inhalation and exhalation. For traditional yogis, the mouth is meant for eating and the nose for breathing. Here are three good reasons to breathe through the nose:
- Since you are breathing through two small holes instead of one big one, it slows down your breathing. In Yoga, slow is good.
- According to traditional Yoga, nasal breathing stimulates the subtle energy center, which is located near your sinuses. This location is the meeting place of the left (cooling) and the right (heating) current of vital energy that act directly on the nervous and endocrine systems.
What if I can't breathe through my nose?
Yoga is always flexible. If you can't breathe lying down, try sitting up. If your allergies bother you more in the morning, do your Yoga in the afternoon. If you're still not comfortable breathing through your nose, try inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth and don't worry about technique. Worry is counterproductive.
Should I breathe through my nose all the time?
Every exercise has its own guidelines that you need to follow. The majority of aerobic activities — running, walking, weight lifting, and so on — recommend that you inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. And breathing through the nose while swimming can be downright dangerous.
In the beginning, save yogic breathing for your Yoga exercises. Down the line, when you become more skillful at it, you may want to adopt nasal breathing during all normal activities. Then, you can benefit from its calming and hygienic effects throughout the day.