The central principle of breathing is of internal cleansing, getting rid of that which is old, worn out, and stale, and exchanging it for what is new, fresh, and energized. During inhalation we are bringing in fresh oxygen, nutrients, and vital energy. During exhalation we are expelling carbon dioxide and other toxins and poisons that we produce or collect in our daily lives.
Under tension, your breathing usually becomes shallow and rapid, and occurs high in the chest. When relaxed, you breathe more fully, more deeply. Babies can teach us a lot about proper breathing techniques however, as adults, we become increasingly inefficient at breathing. We use our chest muscles to breathe or take shallow breaths that reduce the amount of new oxygen that enters our bodies, particularly when we are under tension. The way we breathe, particularly not getting enough fresh oxygen, can affect our health, stress level, and our emotions.
Proper breathing is a simple and quick way to reach the relaxation response. It is the most effective technique to reduce the physical effects of anxiety and retrain the nervous system to become more calm. It is also helpful with depression, irritability, muscle tension, headaches & fatigue.
Benefits of breath training
- Correcting oxygen/carbon dioxide balance.
- Disengaging physical symptoms related to flight, flight & freeze responses.
- Oxygenating blood system: This allows us to concentrate while feeling relaxed, allowing us to engage our rational brain, store information (study) improving our access to our long term memory (recall information) and find solutions.
- Regular practise can assist in slowing the heart rate: and therefore balancing emotional arousal with calm physical responses.
- Focusing on our breathing reduces anxious thoughts, allows us to concentrate, and improves the connection between our short term memory and long term memory.
- Breathing improves public speaking professional singers and public speakers regularly practise breathing exercises before any public performance.
- Reduction of anxious thoughts. It provides space to collect thoughts and engage in rational responses.
The exercises described below can help you change your breathing pattern. By practicing them, you can achieve a state of deep relaxation in a short period of time. If you are unfamiliar with breath training you should start with the first exercise and once you become more accomplished you can work your way to the last one (deep breathing).
If you have asthma , bronchitis, or other breathing problem, please consult with your physician before engaging in the following breathing exercises. If you experience any difficulty while practising these exercises, please stop and consult with your physican before commencing.
This is an exercise you can use to calm yourself down, when you are feeling stressed or nervous. The goal is to slow down your breathing so that youre breathing is back to normal.
It is also useful for those who have never worked with the breath much before because it sets the foundation in the practise of breath work.
Make yourself comfortable and fix your attention on the breath at that point where you most easily notice it. Say, at your belly. You could even put your hand on your belly to assist this.
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Following the out breath
This is used after the mind has been calmed somewhat by using counting.
When the mind is able to stay with the in-breath and out-breath, the counting can be stopped and replaced by just mentally following the course of the breath. Note the beginning of an in-breath -- hold your attention at the belly and observe the progress of the in-breath -- note the end of the in-breath -- notice the space, or pause at the end of the in-breath -- note the beginning of the out-breath. There is no thought involved here it is merely paying attention to the physical phenomenon of breathing - in detail.
You can practise this anywhere, in the train, or the class room or in your own room.
Regular practise will allow you to become more accustomed with the rhythm of in and out breath. It also helps in calming distracting thoughts and allow us to become more connected with our body.
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4-7-8 Breathing (Weil, Andrew, M.D. 1999. Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.)
The object of breathing exercises in general is to consciously try to make your breathing: Deeper, slower, quieter and more regular, which is the opposite of the stress response.
The speed of the exercise is not important. The ratio of 4-7-8 is the most important aspect of this exercise. You become used to the count and your comfort increases over time.
Practice daily at least 2x/day for 4 breath cycles - never more than 8 breath cycles at a time.
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In many traditions, the area just below the navel and midway into the body is considered to be a sacred center of energy. In any event, our belly is one of the major areas that get tight and tense when we are under a lot of stress. And this greatly affects our internal organs, our breath, our energy, and our overall health. In this breathing exercise, we are going to work with "belly breathing" in order to open our belly and allow our diaphragm to move deeper down into our abdomen on inhalation and farther up to squeeze our lungs and support our heart on exhalation. This will have a powerful influence on our respiration, on the way we breathe in the many conditions of our lives.
This simple practice will have a highly beneficial affect on your breathing, especially if you do it on a regular basis. Remember that you can try this practice at any time of the day or night. Though it’s easiest if you are lying down, you can also do it sitting, standing, walking, and so on. It is an excellent practice to try before you get out of bed in the morning. It is also an excellent practice to work with whenever you are anxious or tense, since it will help relax you and center your energy. Over time, it will help slow down your breathing and make it more natural.
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Deep breathing - Three parts breathing
Deep breathing helps to provide the oxygen our whole body needs. It also eliminates stale or toxic air from the lungs and this increase in new oxygenated air can help to increase our energy. Deep breathing also brings on a relaxation response in the body.
We will do this exercise sitting but you can practice deep breathing anywhere, any time, in any position. It can be done as a daily practice to help calm the mind and relax the body and/or as a self-care break during the day at your desk, while you are walking to a meeting or any time you are feeling particularly stressed.
It is important to remember that if you ever feel dizzy doing this breathing, do not breathe quite so deeply. If the dizziness continues, stop the deep breathing and rest.
This breathing exercise is the "three-part breath". To do the three-part breath, we will be breathing into the abdomen or belly, the ribs and the upper chest. We will begin by breathing into one part at a time and then we will put it all together to breathe into all three parts in one breath.
It is important to never force or feel like you are pushing the breath. Instead, think about the inside of your body softening as the breath goes in and let that softening or relaxing make room for more air. Let the body also soften as the breath goes out. Although there is some effort in increasing the amount of air you are taking in and letting out it will become easier over time if you use this approach.
Let go of thoughts and concerns about other things and give yourself permission to be here fully as possible. You might find it relaxing to close your eyes.
- Download the audio file (Mp3, 9.32MB, 10:11 Mins)