Powerful Breathing Techniques for Better Health
Your breath can do wonders, with healing powers that you can utilize anytime and anywhere, as long as you know how to harness it.
So how to you use your breath to improve your health both physically and mentally? Below is a collection of some basic yet powerful breathing techniques for better health that I have learn over the years.
1. Basic Deep Breathing Techniques
During regular breathing, most of us are usually doing shallow breathing (air filling up only till our upper chest) and not using our full breathing capacity. Learning to take slower, deeper breaths instead will help to better oxygenate the body and generally relaxes the body by slowing down heart rate and easing the nervous system.
The simple deep breathing technique below will help you to feel more centered and calm so practice whenever you can.
- Put one hand on your chest and one on your abdomen.
- When you inhale, the hand on your chest should not be moving too much. However, the hand on your abdomen should be moving up and down.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose, drawing air first into your abdomen to expand it, and then gradually rising up to your middle and finally up to your chest. When breathing out, contract your abdomen first, then your middle and chest. Repeat this for about two to three breaths.
- Lastly, take a deep breath, inhaling through your nose, then exhale slowly through the mouth.
2. Breath Meditation
You can also utilize your breath to perform some basic breathing meditation to calm and quieten the mind. Breath meditation can be considered a non religious practice and therefore is suitable for anyone. Meditation can be done at night ( to help you sleep better) or in the morning (to make you feel fresh to start the day).
There are 3 basic principles when doing breath meditation:
- Right posture: One can sit cross legged with hands together, fingers interlocked, and hands resting comfortably on the legs. You can use other sitting postures, as long as you are comfortable and sitting tall so your body will not become sluggish during the practice.
- Empty your mind: Eyes should be closed and the mind needs to be blank. You should breathe naturally through your nose, and it doesn't matter if you breathe deeply or lightly, as long as it is natural for you. At this stage, you may start to realize how busy your mind is. If you find it hard to keep thoughts out of your head, you can focus on counting your breathes. No chanting is required. Playing soft relaxation music may also help to keep you relaxed and focused.
- Relax, keep focusing on your breath, and let your natural surroundings take over your senses.
At the end of the session, you will feel more calm and refresh.
To kick start, you can aim for the duration of each practice to be equal to your age, meaning if you are 30 you meditate for 30 minutes. You should also practice regularly to develop a habit to meditate.
3. Breathing Detox
Breathing to detox is another great way to utilize your breath and I learn the techniques to do it in my yoga classes.
According to my yoga teacher, these breathing techniques help to detox by simply bringing more oxygen to the body, thus allowing better absorption of nutrients and vitamins. It also improves the lymphatic system function. During exhale, toxins will be removed from the blood, thus helping to re-energize the organs.
Posture: You should sit tall with your legs crossed and pull your butt cheeks using your hands to each side so that you can sit deeper on your sit bone.
Method 1: Uneven breathing
I think this breathing technique is called Visama Vṛtti Pranayama in yoga terms.
In our class (which is an intermediate class), we covered the following sequence - inhale deeply for 5 long counts, hold your breath for 10, then breathe out for 5. With each round, continue to breathe in for 5 counts but increase the hold of your breath for 15 seconds then progress to 20 seconds. Repeat 3-4 sets.
Always breathe with your nose and make a 'hiss' sound with your breath at the back of your throat as you breathe out.
Method 2: Alternate nostrils breathing
In yoga terms, this is called Anuloma Viloma Pranayama. To start off, make a number 'six' hand sign then straighten your ring finger up as well (instead of it curling into the palm). If you are using your right hand, your thumb will cover your right nostril and the pinky and ring finger will cover the left nostril in this exercise.
The exercise involves breathing through alternate nostrils. Start by using your thumb to cover your right nostril, then breathe in through your left nostril (for 2 long counts), hold your breath for 4 long counts, then use your pinky and ring finger to block the left nostril, and breathe out with your right (2 long counts). Keeping your hand in the same position, breathe in deeply through your right nostril (2 long counts). Hold for 4 long counts, then using your thumb to close your right nostril and releasing your pinky and ring finger, breathe out through the left (2 counts). Repeat the above cycle.
We did this for about 10 breaths in class.
After doing each of the above exercises, I do feel that my mind is clearer and fresher.
Do you think breathing techniques/exercises have helped you improve your health?
4. Breathe Into the Problem Area
Another common breathing techique that we do in yoga class is the body scan. Basically, we lie down on our mats in a relaxed state with our palms facing the ceiling, legs relaxed at both sides. We then do a body scan by using our mind to go around different parts of our body to detect any tension or pain. When we detect tension or pain, we direct our breaths there (like pushing our breaths towards that area when we breathe in). This helps to relax that area, reducing pain and helping us to mentally relax as well. In class, we usually perform the body scan starting with the feet, then ankles, knees, hips, lower and upper back, hands etc., slowly working our way up till the forehead.
When doing stretches, like back or hip stretches, we can also direct our breath to the problem areas while holding the stretch. This is done by basically pushing our breath to these areas during inhalation while stretching. I find that this helps to deepen the stretch and relaxes the pain and tension faster.