Feeling good is a natural part of life and every now and then you may be lucky enough to experience a natural high where you feel completely content and blissful. Sometimes it comes and lasts a few moments and other times it tends to linger a little while longer. But what if you could create these moments of bliss more often and even prolong them?
In my experience the prerequisite for being in a state of happiness and bliss is balance. There are many ways to achieve a state of balance, such as exercising and healthy eating but one that often gets left out is conscious breathing through specific breathing exercises.
Practicing certain breathing exercises are refreshing, rejuvenating and will not only bring you into balance but may also lead you into high states of ecstasy and joy. Many conscious breathing exercises are thousands of years old, originating from India and used in the practice of Yoga. They are often referred to as “pranayama” exercises which is a Sanskrit (ancient Indian) word for breath control.
So what are these breathing exercises? There are many and in fact the ancient yoga scriptures explain hundreds of them however, if you haven’t practiced them before, you should start with these beginner practices below. I have listed them in order of stages that you can progress to after starting with stage one.
Stage one: 1:1 breathing.
The posture for this exercise can be done lying flat on the floor or in a seated position keeping your head, neck and trunk in one line. In one to one breathing you’re matching your inhalations to your exhalations. For example if you are breathing in for a count of five then you need to breathe out for a count of five.
On your inhalation your belly rises (your diaphragm muscle contracts) such that the ribs flare out slightly, and pulls the bottom of your lungs downward to bring in air. On your exhalation, your belly falls or draws inward to releases the air out.
This is called deep diaphragmatic breathing. When your diaphragm is used for breathing, there is very little motion in the chest. However, with stress-filled lives, bad posture and poor unconscious breathing habits we tend to breathe using the chest.
This practice can be done anytime during the day. Start with taking 20 breaths making sure the length and count of each inhalation is comfortable. You can then work your way up to 50 – 100 breaths or even set a timer for 15 – 20 minutes.
Stage two: 1:2 breathing.
In one to two breathing your exhalations are twice as long as your inhalations. For example, you may regulate your breath so that you inhale for a count of 5 seconds and exhale for a count of 10 seconds. Work with your rates of breathing to find the most comfortable speed for you. Use the ratios 3:6, 4:8, 5:10, 6:12, where the first (smaller) number is the number of seconds of inhalation, and the second (larger) number is the number of seconds of exhalation.
The posture used is the same as 1:1 breathing mentioned above. As with all breathing exercises try to find a relaxing, quiet place to practice. This practice can also be done anytime during the day, staring with 20 or so breaths and working your way up to 50 or 100 breaths. I like to practice this one after a stressful or uncomfortable experience.
Two-to-One breathing has a very relaxing effect on the autonomic nervous system and is a great way to release tensions, toxins and anxieties. Doubling the exhalation allows you to push more carbon dioxide and toxins out of the body bring you into a state of calm and equanimity. Normally your inhalations are longer and deeper than your exhalations. In this practice you are reversing the process so you can come into balance.
Stage three: Alternate nostril breathing.
As you breathe throughout the day usually one of your nostrils (either the right or left) is more dominant, allowing air to flow in and out of it more freely. This is quite a natural and normal process. However, when both nostrils are flowing evenly, your mind is quiet and still and you move into a state of pure awareness. In yoga it is said that when both nostrils are open and flowing evenly one is in a state of complete balance and equanimity.
Alternate Nostril breathing is a method where you balance your energy and right-left brain hemispheres. You do this by regulating your breath in one or the other nostril.
To practice this breathing technique you need to be seated with a straight spine – your head, neck and trunk aligned. Begin by using your thumb and ring finger of your right hand to block off one nostril so as to allow the other to flow. Then, those same fingers are moved so as to block the opposite nostril, and allow the previously blocked nostril to flow. This cycle will be repeated several times.
Here is one specific method of alternate nostril breathing that is easy to understand (you may want to write it down). Exhale and inhale from one nostril five times blocking the other nostril with your fingers as mentioned above. Then, do the same thing five times with the other nostril. That is one “round.” Doing three rounds is a considered a complete practice. Note: Inhales and exhales should be equal 1:1 but as you progress your exhales can be twice the inhales 1:2.
The effects of alternate nostril breathing can bring you into a state bliss and is one of my favorite yoga breathing practices. It’s best to always be in a seated posture, not lying down, and find a quiet, comfortable place. This practice shouldn’t be done before bed as it can be quite energizing. I like doing this one first thing in the morning to start my day in a blissful energized state.
*Once you have practiced either of the stages for several months you may want to add breath retention where you actually hold your breath during various stages or intervals of the exercise. It is recommended that you seek a qualified yoga or pranayama instructor who can guide you with breath retention.
I hope you enjoy practicing these breathing exercises. Notice how you feel before, during and after practicing. Often within minutes of starting an exercise you will feel the calming and soothing effects. Record and validate your experience with these breathing exercises.
Practicing these breathing exercises will allow you to become more aware of your normal, regular breathing habits throughout the day. They will teach you to breathe deeply with full inhalations and exhalations that are needed for proper oxygen and blood circulation. When the brain gets more oxygen, endorphins are release which leads to that feeling of being “blissed out”. Better breathing means better health. For me and many others, conscious breathing exercises are the key to balance and bliss.