In Part 1 of our article on breathing, we discussed why most of us suck at this oh-so-vital part of our lives and the negative consequences it’s likely having on our health. Now, we look at what we can do about it.
So, How Do I Breathe Properly?
A good place to start is to make breathing a conscious action (at least occasionally!). We need to be aware, first of all, of how we breathe and, on the back of that, what we can do breathe better.
For most of us, the problem is that we breathe from our chest, rather than our abdomen. We need to learn to breathe more deeply, bringing our diaphragm into play and pulling more air into our lungs.
There are all sorts of breathing techniques which will help us do this (sooo many books and videos on this topic, should you care to look for them!), but like any new skill, it’s best to start with the basics and work from there. Here’s an easy-to-follow, 5-minute breathing exercise that we can all benefit from:
* To begin, lie down on a blanket or rug, legs straight and slightly apart, arms relaxed at the sides, palms facing the air. Alternatively, sit up straight, back upright and spine lengthened.
* Once comfortable, make a conscious effort to breathe through the nose, mouth closed. This allows the tiny hairs and the mucus membranes in the nose to do their job and filter out dust and toxins, something which simply doesn’t happen if we breathe through our mouths.
* Inhale deeply, making sure that the abdomen rises along with the chest, as though the stomach is a balloon filling with air.
* Retain the breath, even if for only a second. Properly performed, even brief retention of breath provides profound therapeutic benefits to every organ, gland and functional system in the body. In actual breathing exercises, breath retention for 3-4 seconds helps slow down heartbeat, reduce blood pressure, and trigger cellular respiration.
* After inhaling for 3 to 4 seconds, exhale slowly for up to 7 to 8 seconds (it may take a while to get the hang of this, so just go with what you can, initially), ensuring as much air as possible is released. Repeat for approximately five minutes, remaining completely relaxed and engaged in the simple process of breathing properly.
After a while, this kind of breathing will not only seem natural to you but will bring with it a sharp increase in your sense of vitality and wellbeing. You’ll become more conscious of how you should be breathing, you’ll start to fix your posture (less slouching in front of your computer or on your sofa is a good thing!), and you’ll be better equipped to handle stress.
Given time, you might also choose to discover more advanced breathing techniques, or even take up yoga, which places a great deal of focus on proper breathing and the benefits it can provide. Yoga is, in fact, integrally linked with the yogic science of Pranayama. Prānāyām is a Sanskrit word meaning “extension of the prāṇ or breath” or, “extension of the life force”.
Breathing. It’s something we do a lot. It makes sense then, that we should do it well.