In yoga and Eastern practices, they refer to breathing as “prana”. It means universal energy, or life force, the bridge between mind and body. Pranayama is the practice of controlled, regulated breaths, inhalation, and exhalation.
You may think you’re breathing properly because you’ve been breathing that way your entire life, but there’s a high probability that you’ve been doing it wrong. How is this possible?
The Breath of Life
Your body seems to already know what to do the second your body hits the air when you’re born. It comes in the most natural way, usually in a cry, then you settle into the rhythm of your breath. Inhale. Exhale. That’s how it’s always been. We need to breathe.
You naturally take a slow, controlled breath to relax when you’re stressed. Your breathing quickens, becoming shallow, when in fear, and it get out of control when you cry (hyperventilating). Sometimes you may find yourself holding your breath in anticipation of something. And, you let go of that same breath with a sigh of relief when the anticipation is over.
The way we breathe is directly connected to our emotional state, which can directly affect our physical state…either negatively or positively.
Breathing for Health
Breathing has a direct impact on every single organ in our bodies, providing vital oxygen. It’s hard to believe, but the majority of us only use 10-20% of our lung capacity. Why are we using so little of something that benefits us so much?
Breathing properly allows our bodies to slow down and maximize our intent. Not only will our bodies benefit, but so will our mind and soul. Conscious breathing enables us to focus on the breath, which can then help to meditate, if you’re so inclined. The more you practice proper breathing, the more natural it becomes.
How to Breathe Properly
Of course, you are are breathing right now, but it’s more involuntary rather than controlled, or conscious, breathing. You may also be a shallow breather, like myself. This is very common, but it can gradually cause us harm over the years. Fortunately, we can learn the proper way to breathe.
Proper breathing is not only about bringing oxygen to every cell in your body (inhale) but also about releasing toxins (exhale). Inhaling a deep breath feels nourishing, cleansing, and energizing to the body, but we don’t really focus on it because it happens so naturally. Breathing is both voluntary and involuntary, so we can practice to improve our breathing, and our overall well being.
“The nose is for breathing, the mouth is for eating.” ~Proverb
Here is are some basic tips on how to improve your breathing, so you can reap the incredible benefits:
- Posture: If you’re standing, be sure you are standing tall. If you’re seated, keep your back straight and be sure your feet are flat on the floor.
- Relaxation: Let your stress go and check to make sure you have allowed your shoulders and neck to completely relax (release that tension).
- Inhalation: Inhale through your nose slowly. The majority of us inhale using the upper part of our diaphragm, even though the lower part of our lungs are much more efficient at transporting oxygen. To check whether you’re using your lower diaphragm to breathe, place one hand on your chest, and the other on your abdomen, over your belly button. Breathe. The hand resting on your abdomen should rise higher than the hand on your chest.
- Exhalation: Try to exhale through your mouth slowly, so your exhalation is as long as your inhale, being sure to release ALL the air in your lungs.
Most of us breathe as as much as 25 times per minute, but 8-10 breaths per minute is considered ideal, so set that as your goal. Once you get really good at it, you may be able to decrease your breath to just 5-6 times per minute!
Benefits of Slow Breathing
So, as we’ve mentioned throughout this post, breathing the right way can make all the difference in improving the health of your body, mind, and soul. Adding this new and improved breathing practice into your life may:
- Improve organ function and immunity
- Reduce stress and improve mood
- Improve focus and concentration
- Increase oxygen levels
- Stretch the chest muscles (tension)
- Increase energy levels
- Help prevent or lessen headaches
- Enhance creativity
- Lessen pain
- Provide better sleep
- Improve spiritual awareness
- Increase daily mindfulness
- Reduce anxiety and panic attacks
- Improve circulation
- Improved sexual pleasure
Ok, I know you’re going to ask about the sex thing, so here it is. I have read that controlled breathing can improve sex, but more specifically, that it has the potential to intensify the “big O”. I can personally attest that it works, and I use this breathing technique every time I have sex to increase an already pleasurable moment.
As a highly sensitive woman and introverted INFJ, I tend to be more emotionally connected to sex, so my conscious breathing just brings me even more into the moment and holds me there. This also increases my mental connection to my husband and the love that we have, allowing me to open up, be more spontaneous, and creative.
To be more specific, I control the rhythm and depth of my breath (to the rhythm of our movements) and hold my breath for 1-2 counts at the top of the inhale (this is the most important step for me). As as I try to reach my peak, it helps everything slowly build. I stay very focused on my breath, and my “O” is usually pretty mind-blowing. This method has worked for me for a many years, and I highly recommend it.
You can thank me later. 😉
Practice Makes Perfect
There are so many breathing techniques out there. Start with some basic beginner techniques, practice and master them, then move on to another one. Some of these techniques are for something specific, like anxiety or memory. If you have any medical or respiratory issues or are pregnant, please be mindful that there can be risks in certain types of breathing techniques.
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” ~Thích Nhất Hạnh
Practicing breathing properly for 5 or 10 minutes a day (or several times a day for a minute or two) will help you change your everyday breathing habits, and could bring you more energy, less pain, control stress, and more joy to your life.
I usually practice my breathing during yoga class a few times per week, but I think I might find it easier to do several times in a day, broken up into smaller “pieces”. It really helps me relax, especially when I feel worried or anxious about something. I also find that I’m much more energized after class, but I’m not sure if that’s the breathing or the yoga, or the combination of the two.
Do you practice breathing? If so, how has it helped you? Have you noticed any changes in your health or energy? How do you feel when doing it?
I’m not a health, nutrition, fitness, or medical professional. Please do your research and talk with your doctor before making any changes in your current lifestyle.