Celebrate The International Day of Yoga with insight into deep breathing and its lasting health benefits.
Text: Julia Graesser
Before you continue reading, let me invite you to try a short experiment.
Just close your eyes and be aware of your breathing for a couple of breaths.
Did you breathe through your mouth or nose? Did you feel it more in the chest or stomach? Close your eyes again and without changing your breath, count the length when you inhale and exhale.
Breath is life, and unfortunately, most of us are not using the full potential of our breath. But, don’t worry; awareness is the first step to making a change. At the end of this article, I will share a short exercise to improve your breathing that you can get started with today.
Breathing and stress
It is a two-way street. If we are stressed, we tend to breathe faster and more shallowly. When we are relaxed, our breathing calms down and gets deeper. As our mental states influence our body - here the breath - so our breath has the potential to control our mental state. So if our breathing is shallow and fast daily, our mind keeps on getting stress signals just from the way we breathe. Breathing into the chest activates the sympathetic nervous system - fight or flight - and breathing deep down towards the stomach activates our parasympathetic nervous system - rest and digest. We must get out of chronic stress mode for optimal health and move more towards the rest system. The body can use its energy to repair and optimally absorb nutrients instead of ‘running away from the tiger’. Slowing your breathing can be a game-changer for less stress and better health.
In addition, if your exhales are constantly shorter than your inhales, you also stay in the stress mode. If you need to relax, lengthen your exhales actively.
The nose is there for breathing and the mouth for eating. As the breath is essential for our survival, it is good to have the mouth as a backup when the nose cannot do its job. But we should really start seeing the mouth only as such, letting the nose do its work. When we breathe through the nose, a couple of things happen, which are crucial for our health, that does not happen when we breathe through the mouth. The air coming in through the nose gets pressurised, humidified, and filtered. It also slows down the breath, which we now know is essential.
Another great thing that only happens while we breathe through the nose should definitely get your attention during this pandemic. We generate a gas called nitric oxide (NO) during nose breathing, which has antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral functions—some pretty good reasons to stop mouth breathing today.
TIP: Tell your friends and family about the importance of nose breathing and start reminding each other when you see someone mouth breathing. This definitely helps to identify those unconscious moments of a bad habit.
Posture and breathing
Breathing is not sucking in the air. It is actually air streaming in and out caused by the pressure change in your lungs. Maybe you remember it from school. When the volume of an object changes, the pressure inside does too. Air flows from high to low pressure. So when we inhale, we increase the volume of our lungs - pressure lowers, and the air streams in. So the more we can change the size of our lungs, the more air flows in with each breath. Sitting in a hunched over position on your desk will limit that. Improving your general posture will hence improve your breathing as well.
A short daily exercise to improve your breathing
Stand or sit up straight or lie down - remember how important posture is.
Place your hands on your lower abdominal area and start noticing the breath deep down in your torso.
Then start counting the length of the inhale and exhale. Try to balance it out - so the length of the inhale equals the length of the exhale.
Start with an easy count of maybe 3 or 4 and continue for as long as comfortable. Aim for a count of 5 or 6, but take your time with getting there. Note: Stop immediately if you feel dizzy! Always make sure you feel comfortable when doing breathing exercises and come back to your normal breath as soon as discomfort arises. We want you to relax and not force anything here.
Now breathe in, and breathe out.
For more information on breathing techniques and yoga contact: warriorprincessyoga.com