Finding the Way Back to Proper Breathing

It feels quite surreal to write about such a natural action as breathing. So natural, so important, but yet so very overlooked in our daily run. We can live for days without food or water, but we cannot survive for long without being able to breathe. It is astonishing how little attention we pay in daily life to the importance of breathing correctly. Let’s spend a bit of time to understand this vital activity.

Breathing
Breath is life

Close your eyes for a while and connect with your breath. Start quietly observing your breath and the movement of your abdomen and chest as you inhale and exhale. You may notice the difference in your breathing pattern after a few moments.

 Breath is the bridge between your mind and your body.

Most of the time our breathing is shallow and rapid using only a small part of our lungs. If you stay for a while with your breath, you may notice that the breath slowly slows down and deepens as your mind becomes quieter. Due to stress, anxiety and busyness, we developed a shallow chest breathing. When you become stressed, the solar plexus (located in the abdomen), which is a major control centre for the nervous system, becomes tense, as do the abdominal muscles, this then prevents the natural movement of the diaphragm and we tend to either lift our shoulders or contract our abdomen to inhale. Fashion is not helping either as the ideal of these days is to keep your abdomen flat and tight and this makes proper breathing even more difficult.

Why do we need to breathe properly?

There are two main functions of proper breathing:

  1. to bring more oxygen to the blood and thus to the brain and muscles
  2. to control prana – vital energy, leading to control of the mind
How to breathe properly and what is abdominal breathing?

Abdominal breathing allows the greatest ventilation of the lungs. Observe young children, they haven’t forgotten how to breathe properly. When they inhale they roll their abdomen out and flatten it down as they exhale. This is the correct mechanics of abdominal breathing.

So how does it all work, do we have a bag of air in our abdomen?

The answer is a muscle called – the diaphragm.diaphragm
It is a dome-shaped sheet of muscle that is into the lower ribs. Lying at the base of the thorax (chest), it separates the abdominal cavity from the thoracic cavity.

As we inhale the diaphragm moves down and pushes the abdominal organs out allowing the lungs to expand. As we exhale the diaphragm moves back up gently pushing on the lungs to help them to empty properly and allow the internal organs to move back into the abdominal cavity.
Watch this video what happens with your lungs when you take a deep breath.

Practice

Lay down on your back, bend your knees, bring your lower back closer to the mat, close your eyes and relax. Take a few natural deeper breaths to connect with your breath. Always try to breathe through your nose. Place your right hand on your abdomen and observe the pattern of your breath. Your hand will guide you. Now as you inhale, start focusing on your abdomen and raising your abdomen up, your hand will move up. As you exhale, flatten your abdomen down, your hand will move down. Practise this movement for a few minutes. Go gently as it may not be easy to change the pattern of your breathing quickly and it may take some time to adjust.

abdominal breathing

Length of breath

As much as it is important to breathe properly, it is also important to pay attention to the length of our breath, especially exhalation. We often think of inhalation as the most essential stage of breathing but in fact, it is exhalation that holds the key.
We can take a glass of water as an analogy to help us understand this better. Imagine that you have a glass full of water. If you pour out half of the glass you can only refill half of the glass with fresh water. If you empty the glass completely only then you are able to fill the entire glass with fresh water.
The same works for our lungs. If we empty our lungs completely (exhale properly) we will be able to fill our lungs fully with fresh oxygen. If we empty our lungs only partially, we will be only able to partially fill our lungs with fresh oxygen.

Practice

Lay down on your back, bend your knees, close your eyes and relax. Take a few natural deeper breaths to connect with your breath. Place your right hand on your abdomen and once more observe the pattern of your breath. We are going to use counting to practise an extension of our exhalation.
Start with counting to 3 for inhalation and counting to 4 for exhalation. Slowly, throughout a few days/weeks increase counting for exhalation to 6.
Go slowly and gently. Allow your body to adjust, don’t force anything. Be patient with yourself, with your breath…

The healing power of breath

Breath has got amazing healing powers. Whenever you find yourself stressed, anxious or worried, observe your breath. You may find that it is shallow, rapid and irregular. Connect with your breath through deepening it and slowing it down. Listen to your breath and soon you will find that you become calmer and more relaxed. Then it is easier to face or deal with whatever disturbed your inner peace.

Breath is your friend that never leaves you.

Devoting a little time and attention to developing the habit of abdominal breathing will add a relaxed and dynamic quality both to your yoga and pranayama practice and to your daily life.

 

Source: Sivananda yoga teacher’s training manual, Personal experience and practice
Photo: VIVA Photography & Freepik

Summary
Article Name
Finding the Way Back to Proper Breathing
Description
Most of the time our breathing is shallow and rapid using only a small part of our lungs. If you stay for a while with your breath, you may notice that the breath slowly slows down and deepens as your mind becomes quieter. Due to stress, anxiety and busyness we developed a shallow chest breathing. Abdominal breathing allows the greatest ventilation of the lungs.
Author
Publisher Name
Walking the Path
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