“As breath stills our mind, our energies are free to unhook from the senses and bend inward.”B.K.S. Iyengar – author of LIGHT ON LIFE
Breathing exercises don’t have to take a lot of time out of your day. Here are four that originate from the Yoga tradition. These exercises have proven to be very valuable in support of overall well-being and serve as a foundation for any wellness program. Virtually every mind-body discipline, whether it be Yoga, any of the martial arts, contemplative practices from around the world all recognize the central importance of the mindfully engaging breath. Here are a few ideas to get started:
- Begin with 5 minutes a day, if that’s too long, start with 2 minutes
- Increase your time as the exercise becomes easier
- Practice multiple times a day as you feel the need or schedule set times.
- The Complete Breath is referred to as “diaphragmatic breathing”. This basic breathing technique activates that relaxation response by the conscious slowing down of both the inhalation and exhalation and at the same time increasing the depth of the breath. By controlling the rhythm and depth of the breath we can indirectly slow down our heart rate, regulate blood pressure, and reduce anxiety.
- The Ocean Breath has sometimes been referred to as the “Darth Vader” breathing exercise. The trick with this exercise is to constrict the back of the throat to produce a “rasping” during both the inhalation and exhalation. Start on an exhalation and create a “haaa” sound as if you were attempting to “fog a mirror”.
- Box Breathing has become popular in recent years due to the explosion of interest in mindfulness which has made inroads in healthcare, education, and in the workplace. By emphasizing a pause before the inhalation and especially by emphasizing the pause prior to the exhalation, the student begins to access control of one’s parasympathetic nervous system – to engage the “relaxation response”. Eventually, one can begin to develop the ability to be increasingly centered in stressful situations.
- Alternative Nostril Breathing has a calming effect on the nervous system. This practice has been known to stimulate creativity since it activates the right hemisphere of the brain. Use the thumb of the right hand to close the right nostril and the ring finger of the right hand to close the left nostril. Close the right nostril and inhale through left nostril. Then close left nostril and exhale through right nostril. Then inhale through right nostril. Continue repeating alternating nostrils after each inhalation.
Cautions and Contraindications: Individuals with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other breathing related health conditions should check with their physician before engaging in any form of mindful breathing – especially, breathing exercises that involve breath retention such as Box Breathing.