Every life starts with a breath and ends when a being ceases to breathe. Breathing is the essence of life, but many people still overlook the importance of proper breathing. They are unaware of the many benefits and uses of breathing which can improve their general health, reduce stress, help them fall asleep, and much more.
In this article, you will learn more about these and other benefits of breathing, as well as the best breathing techniques to reap all these benefits.
The Basic Types of Breathing
Breathing through the use of secondary muscles in the upper chest area is not a primary form of breathing. We resort to chest breathing when we are under a lot of physical or psychological stress. It is characterized by taking quick and shallow breaths as if a person was gasping for air.
It is common to start inhaling using chest muscles when you are sprinting or running for extended periods of time. For people who are not used to running much, this will occur faster. The downsides of chest breathing are the headaches and the tightening of neck and shoulder muscles that could occur.
There is no reason to panic, though, because it is a normal body reaction to heavy exertion. However, these symptoms can be more severe in people who have a chronic stress disorder.
Diaphragmatic breathing is the natural way of breathing. It uses the diaphragm, the primary breathing muscle of our bodies. Contrary to chest breathing, it relaxes the muscles instead of tightening them. Various breathing methods teach us how to use abdominal breathing to our advantage and shift from chest breathing.
To practice abdominal breathing, find a calm environment where nobody will disturb you. You can do this indoors or outside if you prefer as the fresh air will not hurt. Find a comfortable sitting position and expand your chest by raising your rib cage. Put one of your hands on your abdomen and the other on your chest.
You will notice that they are moving together as you breathe. Focus on breathing slowly through your nose and allow your diaphragm to do its job. You should notice the stillness of your stomach and upper chest. Once you have achieved this, enjoy the relaxation abdominal breathing brings you and sit still just breathing for the next ten minutes or so.
The Best Relaxing Breathing Techniques
In this section, we will look into some of the best breathing techniques for relaxation and offer tips on how to practice each of them.
4-7-8 Breathing Technique
The 4-7-8 breathing method was developed by the renowned integrative medicine expert, Dr. Andrew Weil. The ancient yogic practice pranayama inspired him to come up with the technique. It has been a common practice in India for thousands of years, but Weil was the first to introduce it to the Western World.
As a precaution, sit or lie down before doing this exercise because you might feel lightheaded or nauseous if you are not used to it. Here’s how to do it:
- First, place the tip of your tongue behind your top front teeth.
- Then exhale the air through the mouth.
- Inhale gently through the nose for 4 seconds.
- Keep the air in for 7 seconds.
- Now you can exhale audibly through your mouth for 8 seconds with pursed lips, making a whooshing sound.
- It is important to repeat this cycle 4 times, twice a day if you want quick results. They can take up to a few days or weeks to become noticeable.
Bhramari Pranayama Breathing Technique
After learning about the modern alternative to this technique, let us go back to the original. Clinical studies have confirmed that Bhramari pranayama helps bring down the heart rate and stops shallow breathing, which feels soothing and helps with sleep disorders.
To start practicing this technique, do the following:
- Inhale and exhale deeply with your eyes closed.
- Cover your eyes with fingers of the corresponding hand and have the index fingers positioned above the eyebrows.
- Slightly pressure each side of your nose and focus on your eyebrows.
- Exhale gently through the nose with your mouth closed.
- Repeat this cycle 5 times.
The focus of this practice is on the oxygen that goes in and out of the lungs. The best position for box breathing is sitting straight.
Here is how it’s done:
- Breathe in deeply, and then breathe out as if you are forcing the air out of your lungs.
- Gently breathe in through the nose to the count of 4.
- Hold your breath again counting to 4.
- Breathe out through your mouth. Do it slowly and focus on pushing out all the oxygen from your lungs.
This method is often coupled with meditation for maximum effect in stress reduction and relaxation.
The Health Benefits of Breathing Exercises
We all have a tool in our arsenal for coping with stress, but most of us are unaware of it and thus do not use it. This tool is – breathing. Focused breathing can bind you to the present, allowing you to leave all worries about the past and the future behind. It can help you reconnect with yourself, tying together your consciousness with your body.
Storing negative energy is bad not only because it causes stress but because it is also harmful to your body. If you build up too much of it, your body will react by making your muscles tense and twitchy, which can lead to more serious issues.
Using breathing techniques to relax does not only relieve stress but it also reduces your blood pressure, ensures better oxygen flow, helps you get rid of toxins more efficiently, and much more.
Clinical studies have confirmed the benefits of yogic breathing practices for balancing the autonomic nervous system, which is in charge of bladder function, temperature control, and other involuntary bodily functions. As a result, these techniques help with anxiety, depression, and other disorders related to stress.
Take a Deep Breath
Focused breathing can bring many health benefits, both physical and psychological. If you need to relieve stress in your everyday life, sharpen your focus at work, or fall asleep faster, just a few minutes of focused breathing is enough to achieve your goal.
Whichever of the three techniques described in this article you choose to go with, you won’t make a mistake. The key is to find the one that works best for you and practice it several times a day over a period of time.