“Feelings come and go like clouds in the sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” – the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh
Breathing: You do it more than 25,000 times on the average day. Now, you might be asking, how can I possibly not be knowing the facts about breathing?!!
Did you know there’s more than one way to breathe? Are you aware that changing the way you inhale and exhale can help you feel more relaxed, energized, or focused? Do you know most of us tend to breathe incorrectly or not utilize the power of breathing to full extent?!!
A few facts and practices that can help you to breathe well and live better.
• Generally speaking, a good breath is one where you breathe in through the nose—deeply—from the diaphragm, filling your lungs with energizing oxygen, and then forcibly ejecting the waste product carbon dioxide as your lungs deflate. Many people tend to be shallow mouth breathers, heaving their chests in and out as they take in less oxygen than they need, and getting rid of less CO2 than they should. This can lead to feeling lethargic, unfocused, and stressed out.
• You may not realize just how much your breathing affects your nervous system’s responses to outside stressors. When you breathe in through your mouth, it’s a heating, energizing breath that tells your nervous system, “It’s time to go.” Something is “chasing” you and you need to get out of here. It should be pretty obvious why you don’t want to be in that state all day every day. On the flip side, when you breathe deeply through your nose, it’s like an “off” switch for your sympathetic nervous system. It activates your parasympathetic nervous system and tells your body to relax and recuperate. We don’t necessarily want that all the time either.
The key is learning different methods for controlling your nervous system through breath. Here are some general methods and specific techniques to make breathing a weapon in your wellness arsenal, rather than something that simply happens to you thousands of times each day.
• You can use breathing for a pick-me-up effect when you’re feeling a lethargic. The general purpose is to build up heat. Whether it’s the midday lull or a long drive at night, this method will help. Even though this is an energizing method, you still want to breathe in and out through your nose. Start by breathing normally, then begin rapid in-and-out breaths through your nose. Try for 2 or 3 in-and-outs each second for about 10 seconds—that’s one set. Then, you should breathe normally until you settle back down. You can do 3 or 4 sets, increasing the time of each set as you get more comfortable with it.
• For deep relaxation, try Ocean Breathing. For this method, you should be somewhere quiet and calm with your eyes closed. Focus all of your energy and effort on taking full, long inhales through your nose (filling your lungs to capacity), and then let it out through your mouth without any effort. Be very passive as the air leaves your lungs and leaves your mouth.
So the next time you’re tired or stressed, take a few moments to focus on your breath.