It’s said that taking our first breath is one of the hardest things we’ll ever do. As babies and young children, we breathe in a healthy, natural way. But by the time we reach adulthood, we have developed dysfunctional breathing habits. Many of us breathe high in the chest or down low, in an artificial manner. We are not taking full advantage of the gift of breath.
Breathing deeply massages our organs, pumps blood throughout our system, and calms our mind. Some breathing techniques have been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, and even help with joint pain, insomnia, and diabetes. Healthy breathing is associated with better digestion, weight loss, increased energy, and more.
When we don’t breathe fully, we are not fully alive!
Pranayama is a yoga term that literally means “breath extension” but can also be understood as a way of changing our breathing patterns. Of course we are breathing all the time, but we benefit a great deal from savoring the breath— from stopping and paying attention to the breath, especially if we are rushing, multi-tasking, angry, or scared. Imbibe the breath. Enjoy it as you would a sip of wine or a kiss, or I daresay a bite of chocolate!
Of the many pranayama techniques for retraining ourselves to breathe fully, here are two that are easy and fun:
1) Straw Breathing
One student of yoga reported that this helped her curb her road rage!
It’s simple. Take a regular drinking straw in hand. Take a breath in, and put the straw in your mouth to exhale. Make sure you close your mouth around the straw just enough so all of your outbreath pours through the straw. Exhaling through the straw forces you to slow down your breath. This in turn stimulates the vagus nerve, which is associated with improved mood.
2) Equal Breathing, or “Samavrtti”:
This one is simple, too. Start with the number 6, but if 6 is too long, shorten the count to 5 or 4. Or you might lengthen the count to 7 or 8. Whatever the number, breathe in for the same length of time that you breathe out. Notice the peaceful effects of this technique, even after only a minute or two.
Conscious breathing reminds us that much, if not all, of what we need to heal and be at ease in our bodies is within us. Take a deep breath right now and reclaim your power to feel good!
*This article was also published in the Shoreline Area News.