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Every Breath You Take - A Guide to Yogic Breathing

{written by : Jennifer Beckman}

Article word count : 1677 -- Article Id : 1541
Article active date : 2009-02-10 -- Article views : 7813


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It goes without saying that a large percentage of us take breathing for granted. It is one of those things that just happens without us noticing, like blinking, or swallowing. Even while we sleep, this ..

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It goes without saying that a large percentage of us take breathing for granted. It is one of those things that just happens without us noticing, like blinking, or swallowing. Even while we sleep, this simple act of life quietly continues, day in and day out, throughout our lives. We are never taught how to breathe properly, it just happens instinctively. A new born baby for example takes deep belly breaths, expanding their little abdomens fully as they inhale and as they exhale they pull their abdomens in to release the stale air. This is yogic breathing. Most babies will breathe through their noses and not their mouths, unless congested. This is also the correct way to breathe. Our noses filter and warm the air before it enters the delicate lungs.

So, if we all knew how to breathe properly when we were babies, how come we messed it up? Well, in today"s modern world it has to be our every day living. As babies we don"t have a care in the world, we grow and start to interact with family and friends, then school and the pressure that brings with it. Trying to fit in and be liked and wanted and needed and loved brings a tremendous amount of stress into our lives, and stress affects our breathing. Your breathing directly reflects the level of tension you carry in your body. Under tension, your breathing usually becomes shallow and rapid, and occurs high in the chest. When relaxed, you breathe more fully, more deeply, and from your abdomen. It"s difficult to be tense and to breathe from your abdomen at the same time. So vital is proper breathing to physical, mental, and emotional health, that it is a primary component to many yoga practices. Pran means "life force"and yama means "control". Pranayama then is "control of breath". The ancient yogis noticed that when the breath is slowed down, then the agitated mind begins to calm down also.

Breath not only provides the oxygen so necessary to life, it enhances heart, lung, and brain function. Oxygen flow is also necessary for cell reproduction. Natural, healthy breathing is essential to good health, it connects our body to our mind and emotions. Taking the time to learn to breathe properly makes us conscious of our breath, calling us to be present in the moment. Simple breathing techniques can relieve stress and help us work through anger and even depression.

Some of the benefits of abdominal yogic breathing include:

* The brain requires much more oxygen, relatively speaking, than any other organ in the body. Proper breathing improves concentration, gives greater clarity of thought and increases you ability to deal with complex situations without suffering from stress.

* It brings better emotional control and balance and improves physical control and co-ordination.

* Yogic breathing also helps to keep a balance between the two sides of the brain, which deal with different aspects of our lives. The right side of the brain is associated with intuition, emotions and feminine attributes. The left side of the brain is concerned with logic, objectivity and masculine attributes. By developing the ability to calm and control breathing, you can learn to focus and balance your mind and manage your emotions.

* Yogic breathing exercises are a vital tool to help with meditation, simply because of the way they sharpen mental focus.

* Increased oxygen supply to the brain and muscular system.

* Stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system. Your autonomic nervous system promotes a state of calmness and well-being. Exactly opposite to the sympathetic branch of your nervous system, which stimulates a state of emotional stimulas (fight or flight) and the very physiological reactions underlying a panic attack.

* Helps to improve mental focus and so enables us to free ourselves from the obstacles of negative thoughts and a wandering mind.

* Greater feelings of connectedness between mind and body. Anxiety and worry tend to keep your head spinning. A few minutes of deep abdominal breathing will help ground you.

* More efficient excretion of bodily toxins. Many toxic substances in the body are excreted through the lungs.

* Improved concentration. If your mind is racing, it"s difficult to focus your attention. Abdominal breathing will help to quiet your mind.

* Abdominal breathing by itself can trigger a relaxation response.

Shallow, Chest-Level Breathing

Many people suffer from phobias, panic or other anxiety disorders, if you do, check your breath. If you are breathing too high in your chest or too shallow this could be your problem. Shallow, chest-level breathing, when rapid, can lead to hyperventilation. Hyperventilation, in turn, can cause physical symptoms very similar to those associated with panic attacks.

Studies have found differences in the breathing patterns of anxious and shy people as opposed to those who are more relaxed and outgoing. People who are fearful and shy tend to breathe in a shallow fashion from their chest, while those who are more extroverted and relaxed breathe more slowly, deeply and from their abdomen.

Before reading on, take a minute to notice how you are breathing right now. Is your breath slow or rapid? Deep or shallow? Does it center around a point high in your chest or down in your abdomen? You might also notice changes in your breathing pattern under stress versus when you are more relaxed.

If you find that your breathing is shallow and high in your chest, do not despair. It is possible to retrain yourself to breathe more deeply and from your abdomen. Practicing abdominal breathing on a regular basis will gradually help you to shift the center of your breath downward from your chest. Regular practice of full abdominal breathing will also increase your lung capacity, helping you to breathe more deeply. If you would like help, join a yoga class that includes breathing techniques. You will find them very supportive and the additional exercise will be good.

Abdominal Breathing Exercise

These breathing exercises have been taken from the ancient art of yoga and can be done virtually anywhere; before a meeting, exam, presentation or just after a stressful day.

Yogic breathing exercises are divided into three phases - inhalation, breath retention and exhalation. Yoga places great emphasis on concentrating on performing these exercises slowly and accurately to ensure optimum results.

1. Sit in a chair with you back straight. Place one hand on your abdomen right beneath your rib cage. Make a mental note of the level of tension you"re feeling.

2. Slowly inhale deeply through your nose into the "bottom" of your lungs, or as far down as you can. If you"re breathing from your abdomen, your hand should actually rise. Your chest should move only slightly while your abdomen expands.

3. When you"ve taken in a full breath, pause for a moment and then exhale slowly through your nose. Try to keep your mouth closed. Be sure to exhale fully. At this time allow your whole body to just let go and relax.

4. Do ten slow, full abdominal breaths. Try to keep your breathing smooth and regular, without gulping in a big breath or letting your breath out all at once. Try and listen to the flow of the in-out rhythm. Remember to pause briefly at the end of each inhalation. Count to ten, progressing with each exhalation. The process should go like this:

Slow inhale ... Pause ... Slow exhale (count "one") Slow inhale ... Pause ... Slow exhale (count "two") Slow inhale ... Pause ... Slow exhale (count "three") and so on up to ten. If you start to feel light-headed while practicing abdominal breathing, stop for thirty seconds, and then start up again.

5. Extend the exercise if you wish by doing two or three "sets" of abdominal breaths, remembering to count up to ten for each set (each exhalation counts as one number). Five full minutes of abdominal breathing will have a pronounced effect in reducing anxiety or early symptoms of panic. Some people prefer to count backwards from ten down to one on each breath.

Calming Breath Exercise

The Calming Breathing Exercise is a very efficient technique for achieving a deep state of relaxation quickly.

1. Breathing from your abdomen, inhale slowly to a count of five.

2. Pause and hold your breath to a count of five.

3. Exhale slowly to a count of five, through your nose or mouth. Be sure to exhale fully.

4. When you"ve exhaled completely, go back to your normal rhythm and take two breaths, then repeat steps l - 3 in the cycle above.

5. Keep up the exercise for at least three to five minutes. This should involve going through at least ten cycles of in-five, hold-five, out-five. Remember to take two normal breaths between each cycle. If you start to feel light-headed while practicing this exercise, stop for thirty seconds and then start again.

6. Throughout the exercise, keep your breathing in a regular flowing action, without gulping in breaths or breathing out suddenly.

7. Optional: Each time you exhale, you may wish to say "relax," "calm," "let go," or any other relaxing word or phrase silently to yourself. Allow your whole body to let go as you do this.

The calming breath exercise can be a potent technique for halting the momentum of a panic reaction when the first signs of anxiety come on. It is also useful in reducing symptoms of hyperventilation.

Practice

Practice the Abdominal Breathing or Calming Breath Exercise for five minutes every day for at least two weeks. With practice you can learn in a short period of time to "damp down" the physiological reactions underlying anxiety and panic.

Once you feel you"ve gained some mastery in the use of either technique, apply it when you feel stressed, anxious, or when you experience the onset of panic symptoms. By extending your practice of either breathing exercise to a month or longer, you will begin to retrain yourself to breathe from your abdomen. The more you can shift the center of your breathing from your chest to your abdomen, the more consistently you will feel relaxed on an ongoing basis, with every breath you take...

Author Bio :
Written by Jennifer Beckman of the Vedic Cultural Fellowship, where you can study or apply the sciences of natural Ayurvedic Medicine, Hatha Yoga (including the 8 steps of ashtanga), and gem therapy to achieve spiritual well-being. You can also learn to meditate, obtain your horoscope based on Vedic astrology signs, or practice other arts that have their origin in the Vedas. http://www.vedicworld.org/ Balaji Natural Gems www.planetaryjewels.com

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