Have you ever seen a baby sleeping? The next time you have this beautiful opportunity, take a closer look at the way she breathes. Babies breathe the way we adults have long forgotten to. They inhale using their lungs and diaphragm; you can see their tummies rise and fall while they sleep. If you compare it to your breathing pattern, you will notice that only your chest rises and falls. Voila, the mystery of why toddlers and babies are so energetic and look so fresh and radiant is revealed – it’s nothing but deep breathing!
Deep Breathing: How Does It Help?
Why do you need to breathe deeply? Here’s why:
- Detoxification effect: Up to 70% of the body’s toxins are released by deep breathing. That makes it worth trying breathing exercises!
- Harbinger of calm: Deep breathing relieves anxiety, pain and emotional stress, and induces better sleep. So instead of counting sheep next time, try the more feasible method of deep breathing exercise.
- Oxygenation: Deep breathing imbues the deepest muscles with fresh spurts of oxygen, which invigorates them and makes them work harder and longer.
- Clean up act: Deep breathing helps to replenish and purify the body’s blood by providing fresh oxygen; it regenerates the cells faster, and provides energy boosts. It is the perfect way to clear the body of mental and physical residues of stress.
- Strengthening role: Deep breathing has been proven to improve the health of the lungs, heart, nervous system and digestive system.
These benefits are just the tip of the iceberg, but none of these benefits can be undermined. In this fast-paced age, you should take care of your own well-being and reap the benefits of deep breathing exercises.
Deep Breathing: How is it Done?
There are many ways originating from different cultures that can teach one to do deep breathing exercises or, more rightly, diaphragmatic breathing. Here are 15 very effective exercises that can be done by taking out 20-30 minutes from your schedule. You may do them at home or at work. They require little or no equipment and can be learnt with a lot of ease. Most of these exercises come from the ancient Vedic texts that have taught the world about Yoga. Before you put on your skeptic’s hat, go through these and try some of the exercises on your own. They might make a world of difference.
Let’s first look into the first section of breathing exercises that focuses only on yoga-based exercises or Pranayama. Pranayama is how Yoga teaches deep breathing or abdominal breathing. It literally means ‘controlling the prana or life. It mainly involves proper channeling and release of the body’s pranic energy to produce immense mental clarity and lasting physical health.
Many are skeptical as to how one can gain so much by just sitting and breathing in different patterns. But, underlining the breathing is the main aim of gaining an effective control over all other senses and unleashing the body’s hidden sources of energy. Once you get into the practice of pranayama, I assure you that you will neither regret it, not turn back.
Pranayama Exercises For Breathing:
1. Bhastrika Pranayama:
Also known as ‘Bellows breath’ , this is one of the basic forms of pranayama. To do this, one must sit cross-legged and breathe deeply through both nostrils. Feel the nostrils fill air into the lungs, feel the diaphragm move downwards and the abdomen filling outwards. For exhaling, make sure that the time taken to exhale is almost half of what was taken to inhale. Feel the diaphragm move upwards, the abdomen inwards and the lungs deflate. Repeat at least 5 times.
2. Kapalbhati Pranayam:
Also known as ‘Shining Forehead Breath’, this is one of the most famous techniques of performing pranayama. For doing this: in a slow, but unforced manner, inhale deeply. The diaphragm must feel as if it is moving downwards. For exhaling, use your abdominal muscles to rapidly exhale a gust of inhaled breath. The expulsion of air must be quick but not painful or uncomfortable. Repeat this at least 10 times; as you progress, you may increase the count to 20.
3. Anulom Vilom Pranayam:
Or ‘Alternate Nostril Breath’ involves a minor modification. As the name suggests, this method uses only one nostril at a time. Sit relaxed and close your eyes. Next close the right nostril with your right thumb, and inhale slowly and deeply from the left nostril. The deep breath should make the diaphragm, abdomen and lungs feel like they are filling up with air. Now hold your breath while you remove the thumb from the right nostril and use the ring and middle fingers to close the left nostril. Exhalation is done slowly from the now open right nostril. Alternate nostrils and repeat 5 times.
4. Bahya Pranayam:
Or ‘External Breath’. Using both nostrils, inhale slowly and deeply, feeling your diaphragm and lungs fill up and the abdomen expand. Next, exhale forcefully as in Kapalbhati pranayama, only this time bringing your chin towards your chest till the two touch. Keep your chin lowered till your abdomen contracts and seems to be close to the back. Hold the pose and your breath for a while. Lift the chin slowly while inhaling again. Repeat the process 5-8 times.
5. Bhramari Pranayam:
Or ‘Bee Breath’ is a breathing exercise meant mainly for those who have advanced past the beginners’ level. To do this, close your eyes and place your thumbs in your ears, your index fingers on the eyebrows and the little fingers at each nostril. The ring and middle fingers are placed along the sides of the nose. Keeping all fingers locked in these positions, breathe in deeply and slowly through both nostrils.
Upon inhaling deeply, place your little fingers so that they slightly block each nostril. Now, exhale slowly while emitting a humming sound from the throat. Remove the little fingers after exhaling fully and repeat 5-6 times.
6. Udgeeth Pranayam:
Or ‘Chanting Breath’ is done by inhaling deeply and slowly through both nostrils. Exhalation is done very slowly while emitting a deep ‘Om’ sound. The ‘O’ must be drawn out and the ‘M’ short. Repeat 3-5 times. This exercise is used by people far and wide in the process of meditation as well as during breathing exercises.
Other Breathing Exercises:
7. Equal Breathing:
This technique is again quite simple to do and can even be done lying down. To do it, simply inhale slowly while doing a count and exhale using the same speed and same count. For example, if inhalation takes a count of 5, exhalation must do the same. This exercise is excellent in soothing the nerves and inducing sleep. You can also challenge yourself and keep increasing the count till you reach as far as possible.
8. Abdominal Breathing:
This can be done anytime and anywhere. Sit or lie down and place one hand on the chest and the other on the abdomen. Inhale with this aim in mind: the hand on the abdomen should move up and not the one on the chest. This implies that you are being forced to use the diaphragm and not just the lungs for breathing. Exhale slowly and repeat 7-10 times. This is an immediate soother for jangled, anxious nerves. It also helps to train you to breathe better and deeper.
9 “4-7-8” Breathing:
This simple exercise can be done sitting or lying down. To do this, place one hand on the abdomen and the other on your chest, similar to the above method. Now inhale from the abdomen up to a count of ‘4’. After this, hold your breath for a count of one to ‘7’ and lastly, exhale slowly and as completely as possible for a count of one to ‘8’. Repeat 4-5 times.
10. Roll Breathing:
To do this slightly advanced exercise, first perform exercise number 8 at least 7-10 times while lying down. Subsequently, take it further and inhale first into the lower lungs and then the upper lungs. You will now notice that while filling the lower lungs, the hand on the abdomen rose and while filling the upper lungs, the hand on the chest rose and the other hand went down a bit. This is called a ‘roll’. Exhale slowly, feeling your hands fall slowly. Repeat 7-10 times.
11. Morning Breathing:
This wonderful exercise is helpful in releasing morning joint and muscle stiffness and back pain. To do it, first stand straight and then bend slowly at the waist, with the knees slightly bent and arms dangling at the sides. Return slowly to a standing position while inhaling deeply and slowly. Hold the breath and bend again while exhaling. This exercise is good not only for breathing, but also for a gentle early morning stretch. You will be able to start your day refreshed and relaxed.
12. Breath Counting:
Very simple to do, this exercise is done while sitting with the head slightly inclined. Inhale deeply and while exhaling each time keep a count. In the first exhalation, count one, in the next one, two; in the next, one, two, three and so forth. Some people are able to slow exhalation till the count reaches above fifteen!
13. The Sigh:
To do this method of breathing, you need to be stand straight with your hands at your sides and exhale first. The exhalation must come with a deep sigh of relief to expel more and more air. After expelling as much air from the lungs as possible, inhale naturally. Repeat as many times you wish and feel immediate relaxation and de-stressing.
14. Visualization Breathing:
This deeply relaxing exercise needs you to lie down with your hands on your solar plexus (the point where the ribs start just above the abdomen). Perform deep breathing for at least 10 times with the eyes closed. Now start visualizing that with each inhalation, energy is running into your body to your solar plexus and with each exhalation, the energy is flowing from the solar plexus to each body part. Continue for 3-5 minutes.
15. Deep Exhalation:
Lie down comfortably for this exercise and try to relax and clear your mind. Inhale deeply and exhale. Take care that while exhaling, you try to empty or expel as much air as possible. This means that you will have to use your abdominal muscles to push out as much air as possible. This technique provides deep relaxation and stress relief.
Once you have mastered all or some of these breathing exercises, you will begin to feel newly invigorated and fresh. You will then be able to realize how much you had been missing. Shallow breathing robs the body of essential oxygen and also makes the lungs lethargic. The lungs are an organ that needs to be kept hard at work; otherwise it starts wasting away.
On doing these simple breathing exercises regularly, you will improve the life of your heart, lungs and brain as they will have a plentiful supply of fresh oxygen.
Before embarking on your journey towards deep breathing, there are some things to be kept in mind.
Some of these exercises may trigger hyperventilation and/or dizzy spells. In case this happens, take it as a symbol that you are doing too much, too soon. Deep breathing is not like aerobic exercise. Its essence lies in deliberation. Maintaining focus on the breathing is as important as following the breathing patterns.
Secondly, often you might find yourself falling asleep or very drowsy while doing deep breathing. This is normal, as your body is not trained to relax the right way. Instead, it falls asleep.
These breathing exercises are safe for people of all ages, even children and can be employed anytime you feel stress building up in your lives. Practice them and feel immediate relief and peace within yourself.