How we breathe has a profound effect on our life and health. Not only does it change how much oxygen is going into our bodies and how much waste is coming out of our bodies, it also effects cardiac function, immune system function, mood, stress levels, hormone levels, digestion, strength, endurance and a wide variety of other things. In short, how you breathe can influence almost every aspect of your health and wellbeing. But many of us don’t remember to breathe deeply. And as women, we’re so conditioned to “suck our belly in” that we just don’t like the feeling of a deep, push-your-belly-out kind of breath.
The most efficient and beneficial way to breathe is diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing. This is the predominant method of breathing in healthy infants and young children, but as we get older we tend to breathe using our chest and shoulder muscles and less of our diaphragm. Stress also impacts our breathing and encourages tightness in our chest and shallowness in our breathing. How many times, when you’ve felt like you’re in a tail-spin, will someone say “now take a deep breath”.
Here are a couple of exercises that you can do to help you relearn the most healthful way of breathing:-
If belly breathing is practiced regularly it can again become second nature to us. This is a natural way to reduce stress and improve circulation.
- Pick a comfortable position either sitting, standing or lying on your back. It might be helpful to practice this for the first few times in front of a mirror.
- If you are standing or sitting, make sure that your feet are flat on the floor and your back is straight.
- You can place your hands at your side, in your lap, or on your belly.
- Take 3 deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth, feeling stress exit your body with each exhalation.
- As you inhale, let the breath completely fill your lungs and push your belly out. (As your diaphragm contracts it pushes down on the organs of your abdomen and thus pushes your belly out.)
- Exhale completely, feeling your belly move back in as your breath leaves.
- Do a series of 7 breaths. Rest for 2 minutes and then repeat 2 more times.
Alternating Nostril Breathing
This technique is especially good for those who suffer from chronic sinusitis, allergies and lung infections.
- Sit in a comfortable position in a chair or on the floor. Press the thumb of your left hand against the left side of your nose blocking the air passage. Keep the other fingers of your hand straight, but not touching your face.
- Breathe in through your right nostril for a count of ten.
- Move your hand so that the side of your index finger closes the air passage on the right side of your nose.
- Breathe out of the left nostril for a count of ten.
- Repeat this five times.
- Switch hands. Breathe in through the left nostril and out through the right nostril for a count of ten.
- Repeat 5 times.
This exercise is a combination of meditation and breathing. It is especially helpful for relaxation, stress reduction, high blood pressure, generalized immune stimulation and insomnia.
- With your feet parallel, shoulder width apart, slowly bend and unbend your knees.
- Each time you bend your knees to go down, breathe out.
- Each time you straighten your legs to come up, breathe in.
- Allow yourself to bend your knees as far as you can without letting your heels come off of the ground. Keep your back straight and do not bend forward at the hips.
Now add the colors through visualization:
- As you breathe in, you will breathe in colors from the earth and the air through your feet and hands.
- Breathe in each color several times, beginning with red. Then repeat the same thing with each of the rest of the colors of the rainbow: orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet and white.
- As you breathe out, let the colors go back into your environment.
Practicing these techniques for a few minutes a day can help you regain the habit of deep breathing, which can have a really positive impact on your overall health. You could make a point of doing deep breathing when you wake up in the morning before you get out of bed, while you’re driving to work, or last thing at night when you climb in to bed. Put little reminder stickers on your bathroom mirror, or your computer screen. If you have four or five triggers each day in which you deliberately practice deep belly breathing, you’re more likely to incorporate it and do it as a natural reflex.