Breathing is essential to life itself, yet most people never give a thought to how they breathe unless they are having breathing problems. By learning a few important facets of breathing, however, you can dramatically transform your state of mind and health.
While there are many better breathing exercises to help you learn various ways of using the breath, there is no one right way to breathe. Rather, the breath changes to respond to the body’s state of being—for instance, running versus sleeping. “If you want to breathe well, recognize it’s about breathing freely in a wide variety of circumstances,” said Leslie Kaminoff, author of Yoga Anatomy and founder of the Breathing Project, a Yoga studio, in New York City.
Try the following breathing exercises, and once you learn them, take some time to focus on your breath every day. We begin by becoming aware of what our breath is already doing. Then we slowly learn how to control the breath. This can allow us to become more alert when that is needed, say for driving or an important presentation or to become calmer, when we want to relax, sleep or eat.
- Basic breath awareness. Lie down or sit in comfortable position. Spend several minutes only observing the breath as it comes in and out of the nostrils. Without directing or forcing it in any way, just notice what it does by itself. Is it fast? Slow? Does it feel smooth or ragged? Do you take a deep breath and then several shallow breaths? Is the cadence rhythmic or uneven? As you breathe, you will notice your breath change. Observe these changes with great interest—they will tell you a lot about yourself.
- Place one hand on the center of your chest and one hand below your naval. Now feel the breath. What part of you moves when you breathe? The chest? The belly? Both? Or are you barely moving at all? Try allowing the breath to come mainly into the belly. This is a very relaxing breath.
- Lie on a firm surface, such as the floor. You can put your feet up on a couch or chair. Now take a 3 to 5 pound bag of rice or beans and place it on your belly. Close your eyes and, breathing through your nose, feel the breath gently lift and lower the bean bag. Continue to watch your breath, releasing your whole body weight into the support of the floor and chair. You can stay in this position, breathing comfortably, for 5 to 20 minutes. This practice can release spinal, neck and arm tension, regulate breathing, strengthen the immune system and makes a great pick-me-up if you’re tired but need to carry on with the rest of your day.
Note that if you have any untreated breathing problems you should bring them to the attention of your doctor right away.