Breathing may change your life and make you happier and healthier. Please Use With Caution.
I am a big fan of breathing. A lover of breath! Not just from a yoga practitioner perspective. From a survival of my sanity and well-being general human who is not always the perfect yogi kind of perspective.
I picked up a Country Living magazine today where they were talking about the importance of breathing.
This article sighted a study in the Journal of Complementary Therapies in Medicine which found that “diaphragmatic breathing is more effective in preventing migraines than taking medication”. This is apparently because we are more prone to headaches when carbon dioxide levels rise within our bodies.
Have you ever had a migraine? I started getting them in my mid 20’s. We had had a big work PR party the night before at a swanky London Hotel. It was great. But when I started seeing stars the next day, and then my head felt like it was imploding with pressure, I ended up at Moorefields Eye Hospital A&E dept convinced I was about to be told I was dying from a brain tumour that had just exploded.
They ran some tests and then the Lady Doctor simply said “heavy night last night?” Err well yes… “you are experiencing a migraine, it is quite common for women of your age to start suffering from these, particularly with alcohol etc etc”.
And so they began. I get them from alcohol, and when I am really stressed out and tired. And pregnant. Lots of them when I am pregnant. For the whole 9 months.
All of these are times when fresh C02 intake can be automatically, biologically, compromised. But this link had never occurred to me.
I love breathing exercises, pranayama. I know they are not for everyone. Many teachers do not include them in classes, and many practitioners don’t include them in their personal practices.
Yet it is the 4th Limb of Yoga. Traditionally it is regarded as a vital part of the process to clear your body of toxins and tensions. To aid you in your journey to meditative bliss. As committed as I am I understand not everyone is pursuing meditative bliss! But breathing well can transform our general health and wellbeing without a wider spiritual goal.
If focusing on expanding our lung capacity, and breathing from our diaphragm, can have such a huge impact on our well-being and health why don’t we do more of it?
When my dad was prescribed medication for his blood pressure, the doctor also advised him to do certain breathing exercises that were familiar to me as a yogi. I am often told by people in my classes that they are there because their doctor, and in some cases specialist, has advised them to look at yoga or meditation as a way to help anxiety and breathing problems, amongst other ailments.
So certainly some doctors dont see it as basic, or hippy, or mumbo jumbo. Yet it is not taught or promoted in the same was as eating 5 pieces of fruit or veg a day, or getting regular exercise is. We don’t see leaflets explaining its virtues, or explaining where to start at the doctors. Or publicly funded adverts on the television.
And yet it is so simple. And free. And it can help such a wide array of common problems which effect so many of us.
Literally only 5 or 6 big deep breaths can have a meaningful positive impact. You could go crazy and practice for a whole 3 minutes on the days you can find the time.
Just some of the potential benefits to be found from consciously working with our breath, diaphragm breathing could be…
improved sleep, reduced anxiety, stable response to stress, improved focus and concentration, reduced headaches and migraines, stabilised blood pressure, improved posture and energy levels…
Do you suffer from any of these problems? Would you like to start working with your breath but have no idea what “diaphragm breathing” is?!
Here are 3 easy steps to help you get started today.
- Wherever you are right now just take some big deep breaths. Inhale through your nose, and when the urge is strong but not urgent, exhale through your nose. Notice how it feels to fill your lungs, and them empty them completely.
- Find a comfortable position. Either sitting in a chair, cross legged, or lying down. Whatever feels right for you. Elongate your spine by gently drawing your chin slightly in and lifting your sternum, shoulder blades drawing together ever so slightly so you have a lovely neutral “good” posture. Try not to over-arch your lower spine. Raise your hips slightly with a cushion or folded towel or blanket if this makes it more comfortable. Close your eyes and begin slow deep breathing again. Let it fall into a gentle and natural rhythm. And simply relax into it. Notice how it feels.
- In your comfortable breathing position. Place one, or both, hands on your belly. As you inhale let the air flow naturally through your nostrils down your spine and fill your belly. When your belly is full and you want to exhale, let the exhale be natural and travel back up your spine, emptying your belly and back up your throat and out through your nostrils. Continue in this way. Keeping your hands on your belly will help you maintain a subtle awareness of breathing full with your diaphragm.
I hope breathing works well for you!