Breathing Exercises: Essential for a Healthy Body and Mind
We all know that breathing is important for our survival, but did you know that it can also have a positive impact on our physical and mental health? In fact, learning how to properly utilize our breath is essential to the health of our body and mind, just like nourishing foods are crucial for our physical well-being. Conscious breathing can help us manage stress, calm our minds, and even lower our blood pressure. In this article, we will explore the benefits of breathing exercises and introduce you to some simple techniques you can use to harness the power of your breath.
Benefits of Breathing Exercises
Breathing exercises have been shown to have many health benefits, such as:
1. Reducing stress and anxiety: When we’re stressed or anxious, our body enters a state of fight or flight. Breathing exercises can help activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which calms us down and helps us relax.
2. Boosting energy and focus: Conscious breathing can help us increase our oxygen intake which in turn boosts our energy levels and helps us to focus better.
3. Improving digestion: When we’re stressed, our digestion can be affected. Controlled breathing exercises can help stimulate the vagus nerve, which is responsible for digestion, and improve our gut health.
4. Enhancing athletic performance: Many athletes use breathing exercises to enhance their performance. By increasing oxygen intake and improving focus and concentration, controlled breathing exercises can help athletes achieve their best performance.
1. Nadi Shodhana or Alternate Nostril Breathing
This exercise is perfect if you’re feeling worried or need an energy boost. Nadi Shodhana is said to clear the channels and lower your heart rate. It’s a bit tricky at first, but once you get the hang of it, it feels great!
– Hold your right thumb over your right nostril and inhale deeply through your left nostril.
– At the peak of your inhalation, close off your left nostril with your third and fourth fingers, then exhale smoothly through your right nostril.
– After a full exhalation, inhale through the right nostril, closing it off with your right thumb at the peak of your inhalation.
– Continue for as many breaths as you like. Your breathing should flow effortlessly while your mind gently observes your flow of breath.
This exercise helps harmonize the left and right hemisphere of the brain and ensures that prana (force of life) flows smoothly.
2. Sama Vritti or Equal Breathing
This breathing technique is very simple and can work anytime, but it’s been found to be super effective before bed. This exercise will introduce some balance to your breathing which will do wonders for your body and mind. It keeps your mind focused but calm, reduces stress, and calms the sympathetic nervous system. It’s also a useful technique if you have a presentation coming up or a big day at work looming. This exercise is ideal to do for a few moments before the event to just balance and ground yourself.
– Inhale for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four. Inhale and exhale through the nose. As you get used to this exercise, you can gradually increase the amount of breaths from four to six to eight.
3. Complete Belly Breath
This one is perfect if your mind feels non-stop and overactive. It brings your focus within and allows you to learn how to control your breath and anchor yourself. As Thich Nhat Hanh says “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
– Get into a comfortable position and place your hand on your belly, relaxing your abdominal muscles.
– Inhale deeply, feeling your abdomen rise. This breath expands your lungs so you should feel your rib cage expand and your collarbone rise.
– At the peak of inhalation, pause for a breath (or longer if you’re a pro!) then gently exhale with ease and fluidity.
– To ensure any air left in your lungs is completely gone, contract your abdomen muscles slightly.
This exercise can be done anytime you wish. It’s an excellent one to do after some yoga, especially during savasana. If you don’t do yoga, this one is excellent at the end of the day or when you’re feeling tired and want to feel supported.
4. Ujjayi or Ocean Breath
This breathing exercise is great for letting go of all the problems of the day. It’s ideal if you feel angry or frustrated as it’s extremely cleansing.
– Inhale deeper than you normally would.
– With your mouth closed, breathe out through your nose while constricting your throat muscles. You’ll know you’re doing it right when your breath sounds like waves in the ocean – hence the name ocean breath!
– Practise this exercise for 5-10 minutes in the morning and evening. It’s an excellent way to start the day. You can even set an intention for the day while using this breath in the morning, and in the evening, you can allow this breath to wash the problems of the day away.
5. Mindful Breathing
This exercise is excellent if you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed. By bringing your attention to your breath, you allow your mind to become still and peaceful. It’s a chance to give your mind a rest and then carry on the day feeling refreshed and energized.
– Sit comfortably.
– Inhale deeply through your nose.
– Exhale through the mouth.
– As you inhale and exhale, bring awareness to how the in-breath and the out-breath feel.
For beginners, we recommend doing this for five to ten breaths. It doesn’t sound like much, but the aim is to become aware of the aliveness of the breath and the vitality it gives to you and your body.
Breathing exercises are an easy and effective way to improve your physical and mental well-being. They can be done anytime, anywhere, and for any length of time. With continued practice, you’ll find that your breath becomes a powerful tool you can use to manage stress, increase energy and focus, and enhance athletic performance. Remember to take it easy and listen to your body. If you start to feel uncomfortable, stop and try a less intense exercise. The most important thing is to have fun and enjoy the many benefits of conscious breathing.