Breathing is an action that most of us don’t even think about. However, there are many various ways to breathe and we naturally breathe differently in different situations. Changing how we breathe can affect our wellness, by relaxing our body, helping our mind focus, alter our mood, and lessen the effect of stress. Through mindful breathing we can cultivate wellness by activating the self-healing powers within ourselves.
Did you know that the average person takes between 17,280 and 23,040 breaths a day? It’s amazing how we can do something so much every day with little to no thought. While providing us with the oxygen we need, breathing causes various physiological processes. Using this, we can change the way we breathe, resulting in changes that benefit us.
For thousands of years, ancient cultures have cultivated and practiced special breathing practices, because they have been found to improve a person’s health and wellness. Eastern meditation, relaxation, and movement practices such as yoga, t’ai chi, and qigong combine breathing as an essential part of the practice.
Chest breathing vs deep breathing
Generally speaking, there are two basic ways of breathing, check breathing and deep breathing. Subconsciously, many people use shallow chest breathing. By using this type of breathing, you decrease the efficiency of your lungs and the entire respiratory system. When compared to deep breathing, shallow breathing results in less blood flow and less productive distribution of vital lymph fluids. Similarly, it also reduces the amount of digestive juices accessible for the digestive process and weakens the functioning of various systems in the body.
Comparatively, deep breathing, or abdominal breathing, is more effective in pumping lymph fluid throughout the body, which actually stimulates self-healing. This fluid contains immune cells, which help target and fight both bacteria and viruses. Additionally, deep breathing shifts the production of brain chemicals which promote healing as well.
This type of breathing is focused in your diaphragm instead of in your chest. Deep breathing naturally triggers relaxation in the body, causing the blood capillaries to expand, allowing more oxygen to travel to areas in the body where healing is needed. By using your diaphragm, this type of breathing is able to efficiently pull oxygen into all areas of your lungs.
deep breathing practice
While reading this, you can easily find out if naturally, you’re a chest breather or an abdominal breather. Place your right hand on your upper chest and your left hand on your abdomen, just above your navel. Then, simply breathe normally. If your right hand rises first, then you are chest breathing. However, if your left hand rises first, then you are deep breathing. While both hands may move at the same time, you can also see which hand rises more. If it’s your right, you are chest breathing, or if it’s your left, then you are deep breathing.
Regardless of whether you naturally breathe through your diaphragm, it’s something you can teach yourself with practice. To practice abdominal breathing, take a deep, slow breath through your nose, filling the lower portion of your lungs first and then filling the upper portion. Then allow yourself to slowly exhale through your nose. Repeat for at least fifteen minutes a day. If you have difficulty at first, try practicing while laying on your back or sitting upright.
Through these daily practices, you can use abdominal breathing to create an environment within your body to promote healing. You can use it during times of stress to relax yourself and stop an automatic reaction to a situation. This gives you a moment to pause and allow yourself to think before acting, rather than simply reacting.
OTHER TYPES OF MINDFUL BREATHING
While sitting in a comfortable position, take 30 to 40 quick, deep breathing, inhaling through your nose, and exhaling through your mouth. After the last exhalation, take one deep breath and exhale; hold until you feel the need to breathe again. Then, draw one big breath in to fill your lungs, holding for about 15 seconds. That completes your first round. This cycle can be repeated three to four times without interval or as many times as you like.
Pranayama is a Sanskrit word to describe yoga breathing exercises that have the ability to increase energy, relieve stress, improve mental clarity, and improve physical health. Loosely translated, pranayama means “to control life force”. There are numerous pranayama exercises, even for beginners, each with their unique techniques and benefits.
One example is Nadi Sodhana, or alternate nostril breathing, which is great for balancing energy in the body. In this practice, you inhale and exhale alternately through the right nostril and left nostril in a specific pattern. A demonstration on how to practice this breathing can be seen here, by The Art of Living.
Ultimately, regardless of which breathing practice you prefer, it’s important that you make a mindful breathing exercise part of your daily routine. Even taking fifteen minutes of your day will allow you to enjoy the benefits. When we’re already breathing so much, it’s easy to take some extra time and truly transform our breathing into a self-healing activity.