A few days ago, I stumbled upon a New York Times article titled “How To Breathe”. The articled featured some wise words from an 80-year-old Argentine-born Israeli clarinet player who offered his advice on using the breathing process as a method to gain peace of mind and overall well being.
Reading this article drew me back to ponder on the importance of breathing. Well, obviously breathing is important – if we didn’t breathe, we wouldn’t be here, as simple as that. But other then keeping us alive, why is breathing so important?
The Indian Yogis referred to the breath as the key to understanding life and its secrets, and to a general state of healthy living. They named the energy connected to breathing Prana (Life Force) and the process of controlling the breath Prana Yama. They emphasized the great powers a person can gain just from practising Prana Yama – extension of one’s life, access to higher states of consciousness and overall better health.
But even without the ancient Yogi knowledge, we can become calmer, relax and avoid many health problems just by paying attention to one of our most powerful natural processes – breathing.
Here are 5 methods to improve your breathing and your attention to it, which you can perform right here, right now:
1. The Triple 10 Method: Inhale for 10 seconds, hold your breath for 10, and exhale for another 10. Easy, right? Try it. 10 in, hold for 10, and 10 out. It’s better to do at least three cycles of this exercise, and you can perform it for as long as you want, but don’t get addicted to it!
2. Belly Breathing: The next time you are next to a baby, observe the way she or he breathes: babies inhale and fill their stomach with air, and empty it when they exhale. Why do they breathe this way? Because it’s the most efficient and most natural way to breathe. The western world’s lifestyle drove us to breathe from our upper part of the lungs, draining a lot of energy while using only a small part of our lungs. Belly breathing allows more air to get in, while draining less energy.
How to practice it? Just place your palms on your stomach, inhale and try to extend your stomach as much as you can. When you exhale, use your palms to gently push your stomach and allow the air to leave your body. After a few cycles remove your hands but keep on breathing to your stomach. After you get the hang of it, try to use your stomach for breathing whenever you can. You’ll feel the difference.
3. Nose Breathing: Same as Belly Breathing, this exercise is a natural one to infants and we should try to make ourselves comfortable with it as soon as possible. How to practice it? Just breathe through your nose. Yep, very simple. But there’s a catch: after years of using the mouth as a main breathing instrument, our mind likes to stick to habits, and returns to mouth breathing whenever we are not paying attention. No worries – you are still living after years of doing it, right? So just make sure to check which way your air flows, and move it to the nose if it’s not coming from there. Good luck!
4. Slow Symmetrical Breathing: Another simple, yet powerful method to help us relax and maintain great health. Using your inner metronome (or a physical one), begin to count the length of your breaths. You should begin with a short number (four is a good place to start) and make sure the length of the inhale is as long as the exhale, so your breathing will be symmetrical. When you feel comfortable with the length of breath you chose, slowly extend it. Always be comfortable, but not too comfortable. If you feel you can do more, do it. If you feel the strain, shorten it back to where you feel comfortable. Breathing is like life: we should always feel comfortable, but not too comfortable, so we won’t fall asleep.
5. So Hum Breathing: So what? So Hum, it’s an Indian Sanskrit Mantra meaning (among other things) “I Am,” or “I Am That.” What does it do and how do you do it? Just breathe in while mentally repeating the sound So, and breathe out while mentally repeating the sound Hum. So, in. Hum, out. Inhale with So, and exhale with Hum. The effects of the practice? Try for yourself and see.
The main thing you want to remember regarding those exercises (and life in general) is not to be too harsh on yourself. You may try it for a short period and come back to it if it doesn’t work, you can begin by practicing for a short period every day and extend it with time, or just do it once in awhile. Whatever works for you is fine, as long as it feels right.
Take a deep breath and let us know how it feels in the comment section below. You deserve it!