Breathing Mindfully Can Change Your Life
We all do it, every moment of every day. Inhaling and exhaling, we are all pros right? You may not be as good a breather as you think you are. A relatively healthy person at maximum exercise intensity only uses 70 percent of their possible lung capacity. What about the other 30%? The good news is that with a few simple breathing exercises you can increase your maximum lung capacity as well as calm your nervous system and even increase focus.
It has been long believed in Eastern traditions that breathing is crucial for balancing the body-mind connection and promoting overall well being. The control of the breath has been shown to increase the ability to focus, calm the nervous system and bring about an attitude of mindfulness. Western studies on breathing techniques were developed independently from any religious or spiritual belief or purpose, and are mainly used for therapeutic purposes such as biofeedback and progressive relaxation. These breathing techniques are based on slowing down your breath frequency. This style of ‘Paced” breathing has been associated with relaxation and well-being while fast breathing has been often mutually linked to anxiety and stress (Homma and Masaoka, 2008).
So everyone agrees, mindful breathing increases relaxation, health and wellbeing; so now what. Well, it’s time to designate some time and space for mindful breathing practices. One place where you can experience your breath fully is in a yoga practice. Yoga skillfully integrates your breath with your movement. This practice gives us a sense of what mindful breathing in our day to day life might be like. Our bodies are moving, we are paying attention to our teacher who is guiding us all the while our breath keeps a slow and guiding rhythm. If that all feels like a tap your head, pat your belly situation; try just focusing on your breathing first to lay a foundation of understanding and awareness. Try these two mindful breathing practices accompanied by video guides to begin your journey towards discovering the calming, centering and healing effects of your breath.
Belly Breathing or Diaphragmatic Breathing
Of the muscles used for normal breathing, the diaphragm is one of the most important. Often, people use accessory muscles in their neck, shoulders and back to breathe more than they use their diaphragm. Belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing helps you to retrain the diaphragm to work better, so you can breathe more efficiently. Here’s how to perform belly breathing:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent or resting on a pillow.
- Place one hand on your upper chest and the other hand on your belly.
- Inhale slowly through your nose.
- As you inhale, focus on feeling the hand on your belly rise and the hand on your chest remaining as still as possible.
- Exhale slowly through your nose. As you exhale, focus on feeling the hand on your belly go down first. If you are unable to exhale through your nose, purse your lips and exhale through your mouth slowly.
- Repeat this same sequence sitting and incorporate the awareness of this breath multiple times throughout the day.
- Watch this video tutorial of Diaphragmatic Breath.
Balanced Breath (Equal inhale and Exhale)
Once you have begun the retraining of your diaphragm with belly breathing, you can add the exercise of balancing your breath. The process of increasing your breath capacity can be challenging at first, so begin slowly and only increase the count of your breath as you feel comfortable.
- Comfortable seated or standing position. Ensure that your spine is extended to support the fullness of your breath.
- Repeat the process of the belly breath
- Begin counting the duration of your inhales and exhales, noting the difference
- Next, bring a balance to the duration of your inhales and exhales starting with a comfortable count for each.
- Gradually and with practice you can begin to expand the length of your breaths while keeping them in balance and staying relaxed and comfortable.
- Log into our Yoga Video Library to watch breath practice videos.
Now is the time to begin a mindful breathing practice. There is no better time to give your immune and respiratory system the most resiliency possible. Join us for one of our weekly classes or tune into the yoga video library for breathing tutorials.