Breathing is one of the most basic of human functions. In fact, it is the most basic. Stop breathing and everything else stops too – pretty quickly. We all do it, every single second of every minute of every day of our lives. But often we are not even aware of how we do it, or the fact that we are doing it wrong.
How can you breathe wrongly you are probably asking? Well, it’s easy. You do it without even being aware of it.
Next time you are standing in line at Starbucks or waiting for a bus or train, or in line at the supermarket take a look at all the people around you and try to notice how they are breathing. With some people it’s easy to see, or even hear, particularly with someone who is overweight – their breathing is often labored because every movement is more tiring, more taxing on their body. You can hear them breathe, you can see their chest rising and falling, as if everything is a real effort.
With other people it’s less obvious but if you watch closely (not too closely, you don’t want them calling security on you!) you can see them breathing too. It’s often quite short, shallow breaths.
Then notice how you breathe. You might be surprised to notice that you usually breathe in short, shallow breaths too. What that means is that you are not taking in as much oxygen as you could, or as you should. And over time that can have a profound impact on your physical and emotional health.
Every breath you take
One of the most important elements in yoga, perhaps the most important, is the breath, noticing the breath, focusing on it, trying to make it long and deep and smooth. Why? Because numerous studies have shown that deep, controlled breathing can:
Ease muscle tension
Help you feel more relaxed
Lower heart rate and blood pressure
Increase lung capacity
Help people with respiratory diseases like asthma and emphysema breathe more easily and reduce need for medication
Not bad for something we all do every day eh! The problem is most of us don’t really breathe in a way that can help us maximize the health benefits of it. So here is one way to do just that.
Learning to breathe
1) Start by observing the way you normally breathe. You should notice that as you breathe in your abdomen rises and then falls when you breathe out. Watch this for a few moments to really get a sense of the rhythm and flow of your breathing.
2) Begin to deepen your breathing and extend that movement. So, as you breathe in do so more slowly and longer than normal. Let your abdomen rise as much as is comfortable, then as you breathe out slowly let it fall.
3) Don’t try to use or expand your lungs and chest while you are doing this, use only your abdomen.
4) Do this for 20 breaths.
Simple, but amazingly effective.
There's a book for everything - even breathing
A fresh breath of air
So try it a few times a day at first, see how it feels. Try it particularly after a stressful event, focusing on the sound and feel of your breath, and see how quickly it helps you calm down.
Then, as you get used to it, try it more and more often. Try it standing in line at Starbucks, or waiting for the bus, or in line at the grocery store. The more you do it the better you’ll get at it and the more benefits you’ll get from it. It could prolong your life!