Breathing is crucial to your well-being. Maybe even more crucial than you think. Dr. Andrew Weil says, “If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly.” Yogic breathing, or pranayama, is a unique breathing practice that can balance the autonomic nervous system and influence psychological and stress-related disorders. Integrating a practice of pranayama into your daily life can help relieve depression and anxiety, increase energy, lower blood pressure, relieve muscle tension and even be used as a fitness practice.
Breathe In, Breathe Out, Repeat
I invite you to take a moment and check in with your breath…. Close your eyes for 30 seconds and just notice your breath….
What did you observe? Did it feel short and choppy? Long and smooth? Could you feel it in your belly? Is it mostly in your chest? Do you breathe through your nose? Your mouth? Or maybe a little of both? Is one nostril dominant over the other?
Noticing the way you breathe is a window into how your nervous system is responding to physical, emotional or mental stress. It is also a key for unlocking the secret to managing your body and mind’s reaction to stress.
Sighing, feeling breathless, or feeling unable to take a full, deep satisfying breath are all signs that the rhythm of the breath is out of balance. When you breathe shallow breaths, mostly in the chest, or if you can’t breathe all the way in or all the way out, you are both responding to and triggering the fight-or-flight response - the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system.
Disordered breathing interferes with the carbon dioxide balance in the blood. As a result, the flow of blood is interrupted to various parts of the body and physical symptoms of anxiety and panic can result - mental fog, dizziness, chest pain, racing heart, numb lips, tingling fingers, muscle aches and weakness, and a sense of feeling out of control.
Chronic disordered breathing keeps you in this state of fight-or-flight. It raises your adrenalin and cortisol levels and decreases blood flow to your digestive and elimination organs. Higher levels of cortisol increase inflammation, chronic pain, insomnia and anxiety, and can contribute to belly fat and inability to lose weight.
“When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace.”
I invite you now to close your eyes and take a moment to draw your awareness within. Feel your feet firmly planted on the floor, relax your shoulders and breathe through the nose into your belly in a patient, steady count of 4….. Retain the breath, without straining, for a count of 4…. Then empty the breath completely for another count of 4. Practice several rounds until your breath becomes smooth and comfortable. Then allow your breath to settle into a natural flow and notice how you feel.
Do you feel a little calmer? A little lighter? Or maybe even a little more awake and energized?
When you learn to train yourself to breathe smoothly and evenly, it shifts you into a rest-and-digest state, triggering the parasympathic branch of the nervous system to become the dominant state, giving you a sense of emotional and physical balance and control. When you are in this state, your digestive and immune systems become more efficient, and high cortisol, blood sugar and blood pressure levels decrease. Efficient breathing even helps to balance hormone levels by balancing the adrenal and thyroid glands.
Breathe In, Breathe Out, Be Fit
Learning how to breathe efficiently is not only a relaxation practice, but it can also be used as a daily fitness practice. Most people keep their lungs and chest in contraction, using only 25% of their breathing capacity. When you begin to train your lungs to function at 80-90%, this becomes a very powerful workout. You can do a breath workout almost anywhere. No equipment needed.
The breath alone can build up heat and cause you to break a sweat while in training. Your entire body is getting nourished and oxygenated while toxic waste, like carbon dioxide, is being released. The deeper you inhale, the more oxygen you take in. The deeper you exhale, the more effectively you release toxic wastes. Believe it or not, 70% of our toxic waste is eliminated through respiration.
Breathe In, Breathe Out, Be Om
As you can see, a daily breathing practice has many benefits! It improves posture, tones abdominals, and increases circulation and brain function. It boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, increases energy, decreases anxiety and depression, relaxes the body and mind, and contributes to better sleep.
I hope you will consider setting aside the first 10 and the last 10 minutes of your day for this life affirming practice and observe the personal benefits to you. Take a deep breath, let it go and keep practicing, one breath at a time! The time is worth the effort!