How you breathe says a lot about you. Did you know this? Simple changes in breathing methods can result in less stress, more energy, better distribution of oxygen all through your body, better health, better mood… Well, need I say more?
We are speaking here about real breathing. The kind that truly benefits you. Not just some shallow breath, held up tight in the throat and upper chest. Not breath that includes holding your breath — that is not breathing at all a lot of the time. Not breath that holds you in a perpetual condition of stress and discomfort. And not breath that never manages to make it to the lower part of the lungs but is marked by a lot of heaving in the upper chest.
I breathe, you might say. Yes, that’s true. But why is the way you breathe so important? As a yoga teacher steeped in the traditions of pranayama and healthy breathing, I can say that the way you breathe can impact how you feel most of the time, how much stress you perceive, and how you handle your life. There is an expression in yoga that goes like this: If you can control your breath, you can control your life. That is a pretty hefty statement, and I know it to be true because I have seen countless students of mine demonstrate this very point.
We call diaphragmatic breathing healthy breathing. Here’s how it works: Instead of shallow breath that is restricted to movement in the chest (chest breathing), you want to shift to deeper breathing that causes the belly to push out when you inhale and collapse when you exhale. I said the belly moves, not the chest. Inhale, the belly goes out. Exhale, the belly goes in. Try it! Hold one hand over the chest and the other over the belly. Does it feel strange? Maybe ,when you inhale, you pull your belly in, not out. You are doing contrary breathing and not allowing your lungs to fill properly. It’s worth trying to reverse this. It does not mean that your flat belly (that’s big these days), will go away. And wait and see how much better you feel.
Now you say you get it. You can breathe this way. But you might think that this is special breathing, not to be done ALL the time. Well, yes, it is to be done as much as possible. There is more to be said about all of this, but save that for another day. Or you might look at a book called The Science of Breath, written by the same teachers who instructed me in these methods.
A couple more simple tips: Try to breathe only through the nose, not the mouth. The nose is designed for that purpose. Keep the duration of breathing, in and out, even, or slightly lengthen the exhale. Notice the quality of the breath. If it feels agitated and jerky, see if you can make it smooth. The smooth breath soothes the body and the mind.
Who would have thought we could learn so much from something we are doing day and night, as long as we are alive — breathing? The breath is said to be the link between the body and the mind. That is quite an important position to hold. So take some time today to notice how you breathe. It only takes a second to gather new insight into yourself. What if a little change in breathing could actually change your life? Imagine!