Breathing is something you tend to take for granted. After all, your body takes care of keeping you breathing, day and night.
Yet, how you breathe is a really powerful way of affecting your mind and body. When you take control of your breathing, you can create dramatic shifts in the way you feel, the clarity of your thought, and how your body responds.
There are some amazing studies out there these days looking at the physiological effects of different breathing practices. These are really highlighting the reasons behind many of the yogic breathing techniques that have been around for millenia.
Adding a conscious breathing practice into your life has a multitude of benefits. Let’s take a look at a few different techniques you can quickly and easily incorporate into your life:
Deep abdominal breathing
This is the most basic building block in your pranayama and breathwork practice. It underlies many of the other practices.
To do this, place a hand on your abdomen, at the height of your belly button. As you breathe in, imagine your breath moving all the way into your abdomen.
If your abdomen does not rise as you breathe in, then you are either holding your abdomen tight, or not breathing in deeply enough. Try softening your belly and letting go. Picture air flowing into the deepest part of your lungs, filling them completely.
If you continue to struggle with this practice, there is a tapping technique which can also help with expanding your lung capacity.
This surprisingly simple practice is one of the most effective ways to reduce stress available. It just involves breathing in on a count of four, holding the breath for a count of seven, and breathing out on a count of eight.
Slowing your breath in this way calms your autonomic nervous system. You can do all the parts of the breath through your nose. However, it is even more effective if you breath in through your nose, and out through your mouth, with the tip of your tongue touching the back of your teeth.
This is a wonderful breath to practice daily. The more you use it, the easier it will be to remember to do it when you face a stressful situation. It is also amazingly effective if you suffer from panic attacks or general anxiety.
To see a short video demonstrating this breath, and talking about how to use it, click here.
Alternate nostril breathing - anuloma viloma
Alternating between breathing through your left and right nostrils is a wonderful way to balance your entire nervous system. Breathing in this way both calms and energises you. It creates that perfect equilibrium for achieving a flow state in which you can feel totally in the moment, relaxed and engaged.
To practice this, sit comfortably and fold down the middle three fingers of one of your hands. Place your thumb against one nostril, and breathe in through the other nostril for a count of four. Place your little finger against the nostril you just breathed in through, so both nostrils are now held closed, and hold your breath. You can work up to holding it for a count of 16, but start wherever is comfortable for you. Then, release your thumb and breath out of the nostril that was first closed on a count of eight (or at least work towards that).
For the next breath, you breath in on a count of four through the nostril you just breathed out of (under your thumb), then close it with your thumb, so both nostrils are closed. Hold the breath again for up to a count of 16. Then, release the little finger and breath out on a count of eight.
In this way, you alternate between breathing out and then in through the same nostril, holding, and then swapping nostril.
Single nostril breathing
This is like alternate nostril breathing, except that you stick to the same nostril throughout your breathing practice. Instead of seeking balance, you are seeking either energy or calm. Breathing through the left nostril enhances calm. Breathing through the right nostril enhances energy.
Kappalabhati - shining skull breathing
This is a very energising breath. It helps oxygenate your brain, keeping you functioning at a high level, warding off numerous age-relate health issues.
To practice this, take a couple of calm, natural breaths first. Then, sitting comfortably, you start to do forceful exhales through your nose, pumping with your abdomen. Start small, with perhaps eight exhales done this way. You can work up to 100 over weeks.
After you finish the bellows/pumping part, exhale all the way out, take a calm deep breath in and out, then another filling your lungs two-thirds of the way. Now, hold the breath. You can start holding for 15 seconds, working up to two minutes or more (give it time).
After you exhale, take a couple of natural, deep breaths, before the next round.
Pranayamas - breathing techniques
These breathing techniques are a little awkward to describe. Check back regularly, as I will be uploading videos to demonstrate these powerful practices.