Breathing is not something you need to think about. This is a good thing! As you are reading this post, your body is breathing itself without any effort or intervention on your part. For people with conditions which can make breathing difficult, like asthma, breathing does not always come without effort. Breathing affects your respiratory, cardiovascular, neurological, gastrointestinal, muscular and psychic systems and can impact your sleep, memory, energy level and concentration.
Yogic breathing exercises are called pranayama. This word is composed of two Sanskrit words: prana, meaning life force or vital energy (i.e., the breath); and, ayāma, meaning to extend or draw out. Pranayama exercises are a yogic discipline with origins in ancient India. Researchers have reported that pranayama exercises can be beneficial in treating stress, improving the functioning of the central nervous system, relieving symptoms of asthma and reducing signs of oxidative stress in the body.
Different yogic breathing exercises are used for different purposes. Some increase energy, while others have a calming affect. Here’s an example of each type for you to try.
The next time you’re feeling stressed or anxious and want to feel more calm, take these steps:
- Stand or sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor
- consciously begin to slow down your breathing
- lightly place your hand on your belly and breathe into the lowest parts of your lungs so that your belly and hand rise out a bit with each inhale and fall back down with each exhale
- take 3 long, deep, slow breaths in this way, through your nose
- gradually make your exhale a little bit longer than your inhale.
When you breathe in this way, you access the rest and relax response system in your body (para-sympathetic nervous system).
The next time you want a little boost of energy, try the following breathing exercise. It’s cheaper than a cup of coffee and it’s always with you (follow the diagrams below):
- stand up with your arms along side your body and a little bend in your knees
- take a short inhale through your nose as you lift your arms out in front of your body up to shoulder height
- take another short inhale through your nose as you lift your arms out to the sides of your body at shoulder height
- take a third short inhale through your nose as you lift your arms overhead
- take one long exhale through your mouth as you energetically drop your arms back down along the sides of your body with a little bounce in your knees.
Try this 3 times with a smile on your face and notice the effect.