|“We live longer if we breathe better” - Leon Chaitow|
Breath is life. It the first and last thing we do that defines us as living human beings. Breathing is linked to all bodily functions and processes. It is defined as the process of taking in oxygen from the atmosphere and releasing carbon dioxide out of the body. Breathing dysfunctions are a contributing factor to disease. Learning how to breathe properly and how to use breath therapeutically is an essential aspect of health and healing.
The vagus nerve, located in our brain, is in charge of our parasympathetic nervous system — it decreases our heart rate and blood pressure by deactivating the human’s “fight or flight” mechanisms, including anxiety.
When you stimulate your vagus nerve through breathing, you gain control over your raging heart rate and rising blood pressure. As they decrease, so does your activation in the anger and anxiety departments.
“To gain control of the body, learn to control your breath.” Breathing management helps to balance us on a physical level as we execute our asanas (postures), mental level as our buttons get pressed at the workplace, and emotional level to regulate our thoughts and feelings.
So how long should we inhale and exhale to gain the maximum benefit? It was measured to be five seconds minimum for the vagus nerve to be stimulated. Here are some breathing techniques to get your started...
The Implementation of Correct Breathing Into your life
- Conscious breathing – Become aware of how you breathe during different parts of the day. A practical tip for this is to let your phone alarm go off every hour or so and check your breathing each time it does. Are you breathing relaxed, rhythmically, silently and deeply through your nose? Is there room for improvement in this particular situation?
- Breathe through your nose – A closed mouth, with the tongue placed up the palate ensures that the breathing happens in and out the nose. If your nose is stuffy, do a sinus rinse.
- Extended exhale – An extended exhale increases the relaxation and makes the inhale deeper and more rhythmical. For optimal breathing the inhale should be 2-3 seconds, exhale 3-4 seconds followed by a pause for 2-3 seconds. The extended exhale also has a positive effect on the inhale which gets deeper.
- Straight posture – An upright posture gives a deeper breathing where the diaphragm gets more space to work. Your thoughts and feelings are affected in a positive way and at the same time it gets easier to breathe through the nose.
- Body consciousness – Be aware of your body and how tense or relaxed it is in different situations. A relaxed body makes it easier to keep a rhythmical and relaxed breathing.
Recommended Breathing Exercises
- Deep, cleansing breaths done by practicing the “Breathing Exercises” below create movement in the thoracic area. The movement of the ribcage (thoracic) stimulates the lymph - which moves lymph fluid more efficiently while resupplying oxygen and boosting circulation.
- Another way to improve breathing is through Tai Chi, Qigong or Yoga exercises.
- A gentle massage also helps to move stagnant fluid back into the lymph system, break up toxins, and boost one’s mood at the same time.
DBM Protocol - Adjunct Therapy - Breathing Exercises
- Directions: This breathing meditation comprises of 10 rounds of breathing. Breathe in for 7 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, breathe out for 7 seconds and hold for 7 seconds. The entire process will take about 4 minutes to complete — Breathing is done all through the nose, which adds a natural resistance to the breath. You can also use the Ho’oponopono mantras while practicing the breath, "I am sorry, please forgive me, I love you and I thank you".
- When it Works Best: Anytime, anyplace — especially when faced with any adverse situation.
- Level of Difficulty: Beginner
- Directions: Balance can do a body good, beginning with the breath. To start, inhale for a count of 4, then exhale for a count of 4 — all through the nose, which adds a natural resistance to the breath. More advanced focused breathers can aim for 6 to 8 counts per breath with the same goal in mind: calm the nervous system, increase focus and reduce stress.
- When it Works Best: Anytime, anywhere. This breath can help take your mind off the racing thoughts, or whatever might be distracting you from sleep.
- Level of Difficulty: Beginner
Abdominal Breathing Technique
- Directions: With one hand on the chest and the other on the belly, take a deep breath in through the nose, ensuring the diaphragm (not the chest) inflates with enough air to create a stretch in the lungs. The goal: 6 to 10 deep slow breaths per minute for 10 minutes each day to experience immediate reductions to heart rate and blood pressure. Keep at it for 6 to 8 weeks, and those benefits might stick around even longer.
- When it Works Best: Before anything stressful, but keep in mind, “Those who operate in a stressed state all the time might be a little shocked how hard it is to control the breath,” Pacheco”.
- Level of Difficulty: Beginner
Alternate Nostril Breathing
- Directions: This breath is said to bring calm and balance, and unite the right and left sides of the brain. Starting in a comfortable meditative pose, hold the right thumb over the right nostril and inhale deeply through the left nostril. At the peak of inhalation, close off the left nostril with the ring finger, and then exhale through the right nostril. Continue the pattern, inhaling through the right nostril, closing it off with the right thumb and exhaling through the left nostril.
- When it Works Best: Whenever it’s time to focus or energise. Just don’t try this one before bed.
- Level of Difficulty: Intermediate
Skull Shining Breath
- Directions: Begin this exercise with a long, slow inhale, followed by a quick, powerful exhale generated from the lower belly. Once comfortable with the contraction, up the pace to: Inhale--exhale (all through the nose) every 1 to 2 seconds, for a total of 10 breaths.
- When it Works Best: When it’s time to wake up, warm up or start looking on the brighter side of things. It is abdominal--intensive and will warm up the body, shake off stale energy and wake up the brain.
- Level of Difficulty: Advanced
- Directions: To eliminate tension from head to toe, close the eyes and focus on tensing and relaxing each muscle group for 2 to 3 seconds each. Start with the feet and toes, then move up to the knees, thighs, rear, chest, arms, hands, neck, jaw and eyes — all while maintaining deep, slow breaths. Having trouble staying on track? Anxiety and panic specialist Dr. Patricia Farrell suggests we breathe in through the nose, hold for a count of 5 the muscles tense, and then breathe out through the mouth on release.
- When it Works Best: At home, at a desk or even on the road. One word of caution: Dizziness is never the goal. If holding the breath ever feels uncomfortable, tone it down to just a few seconds at most.
- Level of Difficulty: Beginner
How To Test Your Own Breathing Technique
How to check one's predominant automatic breathing technique? Do you usually breathe using the belly and diaphragm or chest at rest?
Self-test or simple breathing exercise.
- Put one hand on your stomach (or abdomen) and the other one on your upper chest (see the picture on the right).
- Relax completely so that your breathing dynamic has small changes. (We want to know more about your usual unconscious breathing.)
- Pay attention to your breathing for about 20-30 seconds.
- Take 2-3 very slow but deep breaths to feel your breathing in more detail.
Now you know about your usual breathing technique. To be certain, you can ask other people to observe how you breathe when you do not pay attention to your breathing (e.g., during sleep, while reading, studying, etc.).
Exercise 1. Diaphragmatic breathing exercise to check your ability to move the diaphragm
Diaphragmatic breathing exercise 1: Check your ability to move the diaphragm. Put your hands on your body as in the picture alongside. Try to push out your lower hand (which is on the belly button or navel) with your abdominal muscles. Can you breathe using your belly only so that your rib cage and upper hand do not move?
Warning. It is vital for your health, abdominal breathing, good blood oxygenation, and respiratory and GI health to have a straight spine 24/7. Correct posture encourages abdominal breathing, while slouching prevents belly breathing.
Exercise 2. Abdominal respiratory exercises with books
Take 2-3 medium weight books or one large phone book and lie down on your back with the books on your tummy. Focus on your breathing and change the way you breathe so that 1) you can lift the books up about 2-3 cm (1 inch) with each inhalation and then relax to exhale (the books will go down when you relax to exhale) 2) your rib cage does not expand during inhalations.
Repeat this diaphragmatic breathing exercise for about 3-5 minutes before your main breathing exercises to reconnect your conscious brain with the diaphragm. You can practice this exercise for some days until you are sure that diaphragmatic breathing is the usual way to breathe during the breathing sessions.
For some people with persistently tense diaphragms, who in addition have problems with slouching and constipation, magnesium can be an additional assisting factor. (A lack of magnesium leads to spasm and tension in body muscles.)
If the diaphragm is still not the main muscle for your automatic breathing, and/or you have doubts about your ability to keep your chest relaxed during breathing exercises, apply this ultimate solution.
Picture source: Wikihow