Breath is one of our most important physiological functions but one which we neglect the most because we do it unconsciously. We can live without food and water for many days but not without air, even for a few minutes. The rushed modern-day lifestyle and being engaged in multiple activities at a time and intense mental work, our breath has become laboured, shallow and sometimes jerky. So, what is the natural way to breathe, and how do we correct it?
The forgotten importance of breath
The correct manner of breathing has an enormous influence on our health. But many times, we don’t even realise we are not breathing properly.
Deep breathing is necessary to fully oxygenate the blood that feeds all tissues, improve circulation and eliminate wastes in a timely manner. However, today, many of us take shallow breaths. - i.e. we move the shoulders up and down while breathing rather than using the diaphragm muscles and do not fully utilise our full lung capacity.
Breath is deeply related to an emotional state –
When angry, fearful, agitated or in a hurry – Breathing is shallow and rapid
When relaxed and happy – Breathing is deeper and effortless
Taking long, deep breaths is also known to increase longevity.
The breath is the anchor to the current moment. Being aware of your breath and consciously breathing in and out, we bring our awareness back to the current moment. When we live in the moment, we are in peace.
“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.”
If your breathing is out of sync, a daily practice of awareness of your breath and correcting it goes a long way in better health. At any stage of life, we can always strive to correct our breathing.
What is the natural way of breathing?
Observe babies breathing - their bellies move up and down with every breath. This is a natural way using the diaphragm muscles. During diaphragm breathing, the belly moves in and out as opposed to shallow breathing where we move shoulders and chest up and down while breathing. (Add a pic showing diaphragm breathing here)
Rhythmic – Nature follows a rhythm. Solar and lunar cycles, circadian (day and night), seasons, tides etc. Many of our organs also work in rhythm - like our heartbeat. Breathing should be rhythmic too.
Through the nose – the nasal passage filters, humidifies and warms up the air. Use the nose for breathing
.We can combine diaphragm breathing with correct rhythm to establish a correct breathing pattern.
Let’s practice a cycle of natural breathing
Since we breathe unconsciously, we need to have a regular practice of observation and correction of breath if wrongly done. In fact, in any yogic practice, before teaching pranayama, as a first step, rhythmic diaphragm practice is taught.
Let’s practice this method.
Choose a quiet place with plenty of fresh air, Sit in a comfortable position with your spine erect.
Breathe in imagining air entering your belly and your belly expanding. Do it for a count of 3.
Hold the breath for 3 counts.
Now exhale for a count of 3. Imagine air going out through your belly.
Keep practising and work up to a count of 7 i.e 7 counts of inhalation, 7 counts of holding and 7 counts of exhalation.
Build up the rhythm slowly and with consistency. Do not use forced, harsh actions. The breathing should happen noiselessly. Develop this practice mindfully
There are different schools of thought about the number of counts to inhale, hold and exhale. A recommendation from the book Hinton on Health states that every healthy baby is born with a breathing rhythm of seven seconds. i.e. build upon the above practice to achieve 7 counts of inhalation, 7 counts of holding and 7 counts of exhalation.
You can also use this mantra “Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment.” - From Buddhist monk Thic Nhat Hanh.
Try this rhythmic deep breathing practice anywhere example - In your car, while walking, while waiting etc.
We also breathe through our skin
We also breathe through the pores in our skin. Too many layers of clothes, tight clothing, synthetic fabric, cosmetics applied on the skin do not allow the skin to breathe and take in the benefits of the healing quality of air.
The skin is an organ of elimination too. Good air circulation helps in proper elimination. Allowing air to touch all parts of the skin stimulates it, improves circulation and proper elimination. The net result is better health.
Opt to use natural fabrics like linen and cotton, loose clothing as per the weather and take a walk in natural surroundings with light cotton clothes to get a good air bath. Remember to practice deep, rhythmic breathing as you walk or exercise.
Breathe deeply and rhythmically through your nose. Maintain awareness of your breath and correct it.
Combine your exercise or walk with breath control. Take the benefits of both.
Breathe in all of life - Express gratitude for every breath you can take joyfully and easily.
Be aware of the quality of air – indoors and outdoors and strive to correct it.
Breathe and let go. All is well.
Is Breathing Well More Important Than What We Eat?-https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/breathwork-is-the-next-frontier-of-wellness
Hinton on Health – By Kevin and Katy Hinton
Breathe deep - http://pathwaystofamilywellness.org/Wellness-Lifestyle/breathe-deep.html
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