Breathing is important throughout all functions of life and for every form of exercise. According to Beth Shaw, founder and author of YogaFit, because most people have stressful work and lives, commonly they only use the upper third of their lungs to breathe. This “chest breathing” tends to be very shallow. Deeper, fuller “stomach breathing” is more beneficial for the entire body: It opens the blood vessels that are found deeper in the lungs to allow more space for oxygen to enter into the blood, and improves concentration and mental capacity. Stomach breathing can be learned and practiced through various breathing exercises.
“Relaxation breathing” is a very basic breathing technique that helps you center yourself. Practice it when you are having a stressful day to help lower both your heart rate and blood pressure. Lie in a supine position, face up, on a mat or other comfortable surface. Place your right palm on the center of your chest and your left palm on your abdomen. On the inhalation, try to keep your right hand still as you focus on your left hand rising. On the exhalation, focus on the left hand falling. Give equal length to inhalations and exhalations.
Otherwise known as the “complete” breath, the three-part breath is simultaneously stress relieving and energizing. It serves to increase oxygen levels in your blood. To practice it, start by sitting tall in a comfortable position. On the inhalation, allow your diaphragm and lungs to expand fully, first from the belly, then from the ribs, then into the chest, and finally into the throat. On the exhalation, hollow out the lungs, pulling the navel in toward the spine. Repeat several times.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Sit tall in a comfortable cross-legged position. With your right hand, extend your thumb, ring finger and pinkie and curl the other fingers in toward your palm. Rest your ring finger on the bridge of your nose. Take your thumb to your right nostril, closing it off. Inhale through your left nostril and pause at the top of the breath. Release your thumb and with your right pinkie, close off your left nostril, exhaling through your right nostril. Inhale again through your right nostril. Pause and alternate nostrils at the top of each breath. Start and end on the left nostril. Repeat for a few rounds.
Practice by either lying down or sitting up on a comfortable surface. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. On your exhalation, pretend like you are fogging up a mirror with your breath. Inhale through your nose again and exhale, this time trying to create that same silent, whispering “ha” sound with your mouth closed. Try to match the length and quality of each inhalation with each exhalation. Repeat several times.
- Beth Shaw's YogaFit; Beth Shaw