It might seem obvious to say that breathing is important. It is the only way to supply our bodies with the oxygen necessary for survival, and it aids in the process of removing toxins from our body to keep us healthy.
It has been scientifically proven that breathing goes far beyond being a relaxation tool, and can affect the brain, the heart and the digestive and immune systems. While these reasons are critical to our physical well-being, breathing also plays an important role in our mental well-being.
Of course, it’s good to know that modern science supports something that the ancient practice of pranayama, or “control of breath,” has been espousing for thousands of years.
To utilize our breath to reap the benefits, it should be done with intention and purpose. There are varying ways of practicing controlled breath, but the basic components are:
1. Through the nose inhale deeply to a count of five focusing on the expansion of the abdomen.
2. Hold the breath for a time.
3. Completely exhale through the mouth. The exhalation should be longer in duration than the inhalation.
Controlled breathing takes practice, and we now know that our practice will pay off in more ways than we originally thought. The beauty of practicing controlled breath is it can be done anywhere and anytime.
The best time to bring a focus on our breath is when we are tense or feeling anxious. The physical signs of these emotions can help remind us of the importance of the breath and can help us return to a state of calm.
5 Breathing Exercises That Will Help You Relax Immediately:
1. Sama Vritti Pranayama (Equal Breathing)
Find a comfortable position and close your eyes and take notice of the rhythm of your natural breath. Once you are completely at ease, inhale slowly to a count of four and then exhale to a count of four. The goal of this breathing technique is to match the inhale count with the exhale count. It is fine to play with the count as long as the inhale and exhale are equal. Continue breathing for several minutes.
2. Adham Pranayama (Abdominal Breathing)
When you are in a comfortable seated or lying position, place one hand on the chest and the other on the abdomen. The goal of this breath is to inflate your diaphragm and not your chest. Take a deep breath in through the nose to the count of four, hold for two counts and then exhale to the count of six. Continue this cycle for ten minutes each day.
3. Nadi Shodhan Pranayama (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
Sit comfortably with good posture ensuring the shoulders are relaxed. Place your left hand on the knee with the palm facing up, take the right index finger and place it on the left nostril and the right thumb on the right nostril. The index finger will be used to close the left nostril, and the right thumb will be used to close the right nostril.
Press your thumb on the right nostril while gently exhaling through the left nostril. At the conclusion of the exhalation, breathe in through the left nostril and then press the left nostril closed while removing the right thumb opening up the right nostril.
Breathe out through the right nostril and then inhale, alternating to the left side again. Complete nine rounds of breathing, alternately between the left and right nostrils.
4. Sheetali Pranayama (Cooling Breath)
This breath helps to reduce body temperature, which is beneficial when trying to relax. Begin in a comfortable seated position. Start by rolling the tongue and breathing in through the tongue to cool the breath. Inhale to a count of four and then exhale through the nose to a count of six. Continue the breath for five minutes. As you continue to develop the breath you can increase the counts of inhalation and exhalation.
5. Bhastrika Pranayama (Bellows Breath)
Find a comfortable sitting position. With proper posture and relaxed muscles, close the right nostril with your right thumb. Your right elbow should be at the same level of the right shoulder. Close your eyes and inhale and exhale through the left nostril. Start slowly, then increase the pace, mimicking bellows. Do this 20-25 times and then release the right nostril. Take a long deep breath and retain it for as long as possible and then slowly exhale. Repeat on the right side.
When someone gives us the advice to take a deep breath, it seems so simple. And it can be. Commit to ten minutes a day, whether you need to relax or not, and watch the positive effects unfold. Learning to breathe to serve our bodies and our minds takes only a few minutes a day and will deliver benefits over a lifetime.