It’s so simple that most of us take it for granted and don’t put much thought into, yet it’s so integral to the way we live our lives.
In my nearly 20 years of teaching students and clients, I have noticed that when asking people to take a few deep breaths, even the most experienced yogi tends to breathe backward.
How do you know if you are breathing in the healthiest way? Let’s begin with an understanding of the actual benefits of healthy breathing. Here are just a few:
Reduces anxiety and promotes an overall sense of relaxation of the mind and body
Allows for a complete exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide—which both energize our minds and bodies while releasing toxins and tension
Calms the ‘fight or flight’ adrenaline rush of anxiety that occurs at a moment of stress or trauma
Lessens the impact of stress responses by regulating the nervous system
Lowers cortisol, the ‘stress’ hormone
Calms the nervous system
Steadies the heart rate and aids in balancing blood pressure
Strengthens the immune system
Eases muscular tension in the body
Elevates the mood by releasing pleasure-inducing neurochemicals into the brain
Contributes to a feeling of inner calm, peace, and balance
This sounds pretty good, right? Ironically, we were born breathing the proper way, But the vast majority forget how by the time they turn two. As ‘life happens’ and societal influences kick in, most of us switch to a paradoxical way of breathing—one that doesn’t promote those healthy benefits listed above.
Breathe In … Breathe Out
Here are the differences between proper and improper breathing patterns.
Take the time to watch the rise and fall of an infant’s belly. Breath is full, deep, and even, and travels deep into the diaphragm. This allows for a complete exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. It keeps the body and mind more relaxed and centered, enhances concentration, promotes health, releases stress, and contributes to overall healing.
Often seen as ‘chest’ breathing, the breath is shallow, uneven and erratic. This increases anxiety, exacerbates illness, adversely affects moods and emotions, creates stress, and negatively impacts health.
Start by bringing your awareness to your belly. If you like, you can place your hands there to help feel the breath as you bring it to this area of your body.
Inhale and imagine that you are slowly inflating a balloon deep into your belly and into your diaphragm, as opposed to taking rapid, short burst of air into your upper chest.
As slowly as you inhale, exhale just as slowly, as if you were gradually releasing the air from your balloon/belly.
Repeat several times, focusing on the inhalations and exhalations becoming more smooth, more deep, and more even.
Eliminate pauses that may come in between inhalations and exhalations and let the breath become fluid, flowing like a wheel.
Remember the inhalation is the stimulating part of the breath, whereas the exhalation is the cleansing, relaxing part of the breath. Both actions are vital and of equal importance.
Practice healthy breathing upon waking up in the morning, and as you get ready to go to sleep in the evening.
Notice the gradual changes in your life as you begin to use this simple yet profoundly beneficial tool in your everyday life. It is the single thing my clients have told me has made the greatest impact when overcoming stress and anxiety and living a more balanced and healthy life.
So breathe in…and breathe out…for the health of it!
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-Susan Ginsberg, Stop and Breathe