Out of all the things you know how to do, breathing would probably be the easiest, right? Well, most people are actually breathing wrong. The purpose of breathing is pretty obvious - to bring much needed oxygen into the body. Additionally, proper breathing helps to clear a foggy mind and improves sleep, digestion and our immune responses as well as reducing stress and tension. Controlling the breath could be considered a foundation of proper wellness. The ancient Indian practice of pranayama, or breath control, has been a part of yogic tradition for centuries. This practice helps to balance moods and increase mindfulness. It can even be used as a meditation substitute which is perfect for those who find it difficult to concentrate.
A product of improper breathing is chronic hyperventilation. This is rapid, deep or over-breathing which normally accompanies stress or anxiety. This breathing irregularity originated from the primal fight or flight mechanism that helped our ancestors escape danger. Hyperventilating is not exclusive to people who experience panic attacks, but can affect anyone and cause subtle symptoms. People who breathe shallowly like this are not properly filling the lungs and may be prone to heart problems like heart disease. It is important to make a conscious effort to breathe fully - taking deep, steady breaths into the diaphragm whenever you can.
A person may have chronic hyperventilation if they experience:
- Breathing only in the upper chest - usually caused by improper posture creating compression on the diaphragm
- Fast Breathing - the average person breathes 12 - 20 breaths a minute. Failure to take pauses between breaths can double the breathing rate
- Taking Random Deep Breaths & Frequent Yawning - this may also feel like you are short of breath which may lead to heightened anxiety (I used to experience this one until I became more aware of my breathing)
These symptoms may also be caused by forgetting to breath as a result of tension in the body that makes a person hold their breath. Hyperventilation can cause an endorphin release in the body similar to the runner's high athlete's get after a good work out. Endorphins are chemicals in the body that elevate mood and relieve stress. This short term effect does not amount to the negative long term effects like:
- Panic Attacks
- Rapid/Irregular Heartbeat
Pranayama is the yogic practice of breath control. Anyone can learn how to practice these beneficial breathwork techniques. Pranayama can be executed by syncing breaths to asanas, or the physical yoga poses. It can also be done as a separate exercise. My personal favorite pranayama technique is nadi shodhana, which translates to clearing the channels. This relaxing breathwork may help to calm the mind. To begin:
- Bend your index and middle fingers inward to the palm of your right hand
- Breathe in completely, hold for a couple of seconds and exhale fully (I always like to do this before starting any practice)
- Breathe in then shut your right nostril with the thumb, Breathe out
- Breathe in then shut your left nostril with your ring finger (making sure to simultaneously release the right side)
- Breathe out and in, Then shut the right nostril
- Repeat, alternating sides, for about 8 more times
Things to remember:
- Breathe in fully and deeply, and exhale completely
- You should not feel as if you're forcing deep breaths, try relaxing and not thinking so hard about it
Disclaimer: Please consult your health care professional before attempting any of the techniques here. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any health conditions. These claims have not been evaluated by the FDA.
Dr. Deborah McManners.(2006).The Ultimate Holistic Health Book. Piatkus.
The Chopra Center. www.Chopra.com