Let’s Talk About BREATH

There’s something remarkable about the breath, it’s subtle, yet powerful.

Most people don’t even give it a second thought, we just take it for granted. Seriously, do people really spend any time thinking about breathing during the day? Our breath unifies the mind and body. We live such hectic on the go lives that we tend to overlook how the mind, body and breath are intimately connected and significantly influence one another. However, we should put more emphasis on how we breath because it can greatly improve our overall health. The breath can even be used for something as simple as clearing the mind.  

Deep breathing can reverse feelings of anxiety and frustration and create a sense of calm. When you breathe deeply and slowly, you stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which can reduce the stress response in your body. Deep breathing stimulates the vagus (primary) nerve in the parasympathetic system, this slows the heart rate, lowers blood pressure and calms both the body and mind. [1]

Yogis refer to controlled breath as pranayama. Pranayama is a Sanskrit term that translates to either breath control, or breath extension. It’s a combination of two words, prana (life force) and ayama (to extend or control). You’ve probably heard yoga teachers and people that practice Ayurvedic healing methods make some seemingly unbelievable claims about the benefits of pranayama. Well, over the last several years, university researchers began studying the validity of using breath as a tool for improving health.

The International Journal of Preventative Medicine published a comprehensive analysis of multiple studies designed to analyze the correlation between yoga, breath and health. One group of researchers at the Jawaharlal Institute, studied the effect of a six week guided pranayama course. They reported the practice improved functions in the form of lowered respiratory rates and increases in the forced vital capacity.[2] The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine published data compiled from several studies which indicated that yoga and pranayama decreased levels of salivary cortisol (stress hormone), blood glucose and plasma renin levels, an enzyme which helps regulate blood pressure.[3] You’ve probably even noticed the impact of simply taking deep breaths as a method for calming yourself and preventing an emotional outburst.

I always include some breath exercises in my morning routine as a way to center and focus myself.

This is what it looks like for me:

Right after I wake up, I usually begin my meditation practice with a couple deep breaths. I start by inhaling through my nose and exhaling through my mouth. This helps me connect with myself and it energizes both my body and mind. Then I let my breath return to its normal rhythm and I just observe.

I like taking a couple minutes to evaluate how I’m breathing. It’s a quick check in with myself…is my breath shallow or deep, is it disjointed or smooth, is it originating in my chest or in my stomach? When we pause for a moment to listen to our breath, it can be a great teacher.

Once I connect to how I’m breathing and identify what my breath is telling me, I simply sit and feel it. I just feel the emotions and sensations that arise in my body and mind, exactly like I do during my meditation practice, I acknowledge what surfaces and then I release it.

After I observe, it’s time to just breathe. This leads me into my meditation practice. The breath is an anchor to the present moment. Every time I notice my mind wandering, I take a deep breath and refocus myself leading me back into stillness.

By doing this for just a couple minutes in the morning, I find clarity and energy to start my day with intention. It also helps me settle into my seated practice with ease so I can truly observe what’s happening in my mind and body. Meditation is a great way to cultivate a better relationship with yourself. We easily forget to listen to ourselves, when we do, we find harmony in the body and mind.   

A couple of my favorite deep breathing techniques are Ujjayi and Sama Vritti:

Ujjayi Breath (Ocean’s Breath) – This technique helps calm the mind and warms the body. This is the breath typically done while practicing either hatha or vinyasa yoga, but I also practice it as just a breathing technique. I find when I use ujjayi, it’s much easier for me to remain in the the present moment. It’s also great for releasing tension.

  • Begin by taking deep breaths, match the length of your inhale with the length of your exhale.

  • Inhale through your nose and exhale into your palm, imagine you are steaming up a mirror.

  • Now try this same type of exhalation with your mouth closed.

  • Constrict the back of your throat as you exhale and you’ll notice a gentle sound like an ocean wave.

  • Keep the constriction with every exhale.

  • Just maintain the same rhythm. 

Sama Vritti Breath (Equal Breath) – It’s a simple translation, equal breath, meaning the inhalation and pause lasts for the same amount of time as the exhalation. This breath is used for focusing the body and mind and helps remove distractions. If you have a very active mind, like me, this is a beneficial breathing technique.

  • Notice your natural breath

  • Slowly count to four as you inhale

  • Hold on the inhale for the count of four

  • Exhale for the count of four

  • Hold on the exhale for the count of four

  • Inhale for the count of four

  • Continue breathing this way for several minutes

After a few rounds you can change the count to 6, but you can stay at 4, or if you find you are struggling with the breath simply lower it to 3, find a count that feels the most normal to you. Try to cultivate the same quality of breath at the beginning, middle and end of the count.

The breath is a truly extraordinary gift.

It seems so simple, but when we allow ourselves a moment of time to slow down and listen, we cultivate a sense of calm. Try spending just a couple minutes a day practicing one of these techniques, I think you’ll find it beneficial for your body, mind and soul.

Shine True,

Heather

 

 

 


[1] Brown, R., Gerbarg, P. (2009) Yoga Breathing, Meditation, and Longevity. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1172:54-62.

 

[2] “Health impacts of yoga and pranayama: A state-of-the-Art review.” International journal of preventive medicine. vol. 3,7 (2012): 444-58.

 

[3] “Positive impact of yoga and pranayama on obesity, hypertension, blood sugar, and cholesterol: a pilot assessment.” Journal of alternative complement medicine vol. 13,10 (2007): 1056–57

 

LifestyleHeather Peterson