If you’re like most people, you’ve probably never thought about learning how to breathe. After all, our body does it automatically from the moment we’re born and the doctor slaps us on the back. But as we grow up, stress causes us to fall into a pattern of superficial, shallow breathing and our body gets starved for oxygen. A lack of sufficient oxygen can contribute to many health problems, including heart disease, sleep disorders, lack of concentration and fatigue, to name a few.
Deep, rhythmic breathing is the foundation of physical and mental health. After a lifetime of shallow breathing, it requires focus and concentration to learn how to breath deeply again. With practice, however, deep breathing can become automatic and can radically transform our internal environment.
According to the Yogic perspective, proper breathing brings more oxygen to the blood and to the brain, and it also controls the vital life energy, or Prana. When we breathe in, we take in oxygen, which then passes through the body in a form that revitalizes everything it touches. Then we exhale carbon dioxide and release toxins from the body. The practice of Pranayam helps you absorb vital life energy through breath control, linking your body, mind and spirit.
Deep breathing is something you can practice on your own, at any time of day. It can take as little as 5 minutes, and the effects will be dramatic:
- Sit comfortably, either in a chair or on the floor. Feel your spine elongate towards the ceiling and drop your shoulders away from your ears.
- Throughout the exercise, make an effort to breathe in through your nose, but if this is difficult, you can start by breathing through your mouth.
- Place your hands on your abdomen and breath out. Tighten your belly muscles to release as much air as possible.
- Breathe in slowly, imagining your belly like a balloon that’s filling with air.
- Let the breath rise from your belly, up into your chest and all the way to the top of your collarbone.
- Exhale slowly, the same length as your inhalation. Let your chest deflate first, then gradually contract your abdomen.
- Begin with five or ten repetitions of this breath, and increase the number of repetitions as it becomes more natural.
Deep breathing can feel uncomfortable at first because it uses muscles in our chest and abdomen that aren’t used to getting a workout. Over time, however, deep breathing can become a source of pleasure as it gently massages our internal organs, revitalizes our energy and helps regulate our mood and strengthen our concentration. After this practice becomes a habit, you may find your body automatically breathing deeper during the day. Success!