Our breath connects us to this beautiful life. Have you ever stopped and paid attention to it?
Until I started my yogic journey I never gave it much thought. Turns out that paying attention to how we breathe can make a big difference in our health. Who knew such a simple thing could influence so much.
In its simplest terms we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Dive a little deeper and the oxygen is carried by red blood cells to the tissues. The carbon dioxide (a waste product) is diffused from the blood back into the lungs and exhaled.
Becoming aware of my breath and how I breathe has taken me to the next level of my journey. I recently finished a 6 month long course the Sacred Medicine of Qigong and Yin Yoga. It was fascinating to look back thousands of years to see what people were doing for their health. Even more fascinating is how some simplistic practices can have a positive effect on our health.
Healthy Breathing – Natural Deep Belly Breathing
Abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing is natural, efficient and soothing and has the effect of energizing, relaxing and healing the body. On an inhale the diaphragm contracts and moves downward creating more space in the chest cavity allowing the lungs to expand. On an exhale the opposite happens – the diaphragm relaxes and moves upward in the chest cavity. This is a natural way to breathe and utilizes the full capacity of the lungs, which includes abdominal expansion, thoracic (ribcage/chest, and back) expansion and cervical (neck) expansion.
Our hurry up life-style, full of stress and “sucking in the belly” contributes to shorter more shallow breathing primarily in our chest. Over a period of time this way of breathing can become habit. The good news it is simple to get back to deep, rhythmic natural breathing.
How to Practice
Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down. Sit in a chair (or on your yoga mat in Sukhasana- easy seat) or lay on your back in Savasana (corpse pose). If seated, palms can be on your thighs or one hand on your belly and one one your chest. If laying down both hands can be on your belly.
Weight is even in your sitz bones, spine is long, crown of the head reaching toward the sky. Shoulders are relaxed and away from the ears. Chest is open and the chin is parallel to the ground or slightly dipped.
Take a few moments to settle into your position. After a few moments start to notice your breath. Relax and notice without forcing anything. Perhaps you stop at this point after spending a few moments simply connecting with your breath. Or now that your body is relaxed you’re ready to move on.
Take a slow, deep, Inhale through the nose allowing the breath to fill your belly. Breathe in letting the belly expand fully. The breath naturally moves up from the belly into the thoracic region (ribcage) then the breath continues up into the neck. Your chest will only move slightly, if at all. Nothing is ever forced or strained. Note – it is the movement of your diaphragm that is expanding the belly.
Exhale through the nose and reverse the direction. Air is exhaled from the neck region, then the thoracic and finally the belly contracts to expel the air out. Again, nothing is forced or strained. Note: air is being expelled from the lungs only. It is the movement of the diaphragm that is contracting the belly. Repeat for 2- 3 minutes and up to 15 minutes. You can practice this several times a day.
Can’t tell if you are breathing from your belly? Place your right hand on your belly and the left on your lower back and notice your hands moving on your inhales an exhales. Your belly, ribcage, sides and lower back should also be expanding and contracting with each breath.
Once you are comfortable try to make the inhales and exhales the same length. For example, inhale for a count of 3 and exhale for a count of 3 (it be a count of 4, 6 or even 2. Start where you are today).
“Healthy breathing means that the breath adapts and responds to the body’s needs. In an aerobically demanding activity, such as swimming or tennis, the chest and abdomen will be moving in order to breathe more quickly and deeply. We need to allow the body’s natural responses to activity. Even during times of utmost quiet and stillness, the chest is free to expand, though it moves ever so gently and slightly. Most of the movement of quiet respiration is in the abdomen, and it may require concentration and sensitivity to even feel the movement of the chest cavity (ribs and sternum).”The Way of Qigong, the Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing, Kenneth S. Cohen
Natural belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing has a ton of benefits including:
✔️Reducing stress (stress lowers your immune response)
✔️Lowering heart rate
✔️Helps lower blood pressure
✔️Improves core muscle stability
✔️Improves your body’s ability to tolerate intense exercise
If you decide to slow down and become aware of your breath it’s worth the effort to journal about your experiences. Make a note about how you are feeling before, during and after. What are you aware of? What has changed for you after your practice?
I am not a doctor (nor do I play one on TV) please consult with your physician before embarking on this journey if you have any health concerns.