Take a Deep Breath: It Could Make You Healthier
I saw something really disturbing making its way around the Internet last week. It was an image of Valeria Lukyanova, a Ukrainian woman who refers to herself as a real-life Barbie. But Lukyanova isn’t content with her already paper thin waist. See, she participates in a New Age practice is known as Breatharianism. Its followers neither eat nor drink, believing they can exist solely on “cosmic micro-food.”
“In recent weeks I have not been hungry at all,” Valeria Lukyanova told the International Business Times. “I’m hoping it’s the final stage before I can subsist on air and light alone.”
Just so we’re clear, that’s not what this article is about. You cannot exist on a diet of air and light. However, increasing the amount of air you consume, and doing it in a different, more purposeful way, could indeed have a positive impact on your health. Not by making you as grotesquely skinny as a Barbie, but by increasing oxygen flow, reducing stress, and increasing vital energy and alertness.
Bad Breathing Patterns
Did you know all breaths are not created equal? According to Mother Earth News, poor breathing patterns “may actually contribute to anxiety, panic attacks, depression, muscle tension, headaches and fatigue.” Breathing through your mouth, shallow breathing (doesn’t engage the diaphragm) and rapid breathing (also called chest or thoracic breathing) are all examples of the wrong way to breathe.
Beneficial Breathing Exercises
Like everything, proper breathing takes practice. Unlike other exercises, some of the positive benefits of proper breathing can be felt instantly. If you practice yoga or meditation on a regular basis, you’re likely familiar with some of these breathing exercises. If not, the info below should get you started.
The Stimulating Breath (also called the Bellows Breath)
“Begin by relaxing your shoulders and take a few deep, full breaths from your abdomen. Now start exhaling forcefully through your nose, followed by forceful, deep inhalations at the rate of one second per cycle. Your breathing is entirely from your diaphragm, keeping your head, neck, shoulders, and chest relatively still while your belly moves in and out,” explains The Chopra Center. “Start by doing a round of ten bhastrika breaths, then breathe naturally and notice the sensations in your body. After 15 to 30 seconds, begin the next round with 20 breaths. Finally, after pausing for another 30 seconds, complete a third round of 30 breaths.”
If this breathing exercise is done properly, you may feel invigorated, comparable to the “high” you feel after a good workout.
Nadi Shodhana or “Alternate Nostril Breathing”
“Starting in a comfortable meditative pose, hold the right thumb over the right nostril and inhale deeply through the left nostril. At the peak of inhalation, close off the left nostril with the ring finger, then exhale through the right nostril. Continue the pattern, inhaling through the right nostril, closing it off with the right thumb and exhaling through the left nostril,” writes Jordan Shakeshaft.
Use this exercise to focus and channel energy while at work. Nadi shodhana is said to “clear the channels” and make people feel more awake.
Tension Reliever or “Breath Counting”
If you’ve ever tried counting sheep, you’ve already experimented with this relaxing breath exercise. Sit in a comfortable position with the spine straight and head inclined slightly forward. “Inhale diaphragmatically (with your abdomen rather than your chest expanding) as you say to yourself ‘breathe in.’ Hold your breath a moment before you exhale. Exhale slowly and deeply as you say to yourself ‘relax.’ Inhale slowly, then hold your breath for a moment, noticing any parts of your body that tense up. As you exhale, feel the tension leaving your body. With each exhalation, feel increasingly relaxed as you release tension,” explains Mother Earth News. ”
Alternatively, you can count to yourself as you exhale, always trying to hold longer the next time. “To begin the exercise, count ‘one’ to yourself as you exhale. The next time you exhale, count ‘two,’and so on up to ‘five.’ Then begin a new cycle,” advises Andrew Weil, M.D. “Never count higher than ‘five,’ and count only when you exhale.” Try to keep it up for 10 minutes.
Image via Thinkstock