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Breathing Basics

Three Methods to Enhance Energy and Health

We repeat this task over 20,000 times a day and breathing is one of the most important physical functions our bodies know to do. Yet most of us don’t get it right. We fail to reap the full benefits of this action. As Dr. Andrew Weil, MD, a well-known pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, says: “If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be to learn to breathe correctly.”

Chinese and yogic traditions have encouraged and taught proper breathing for centuries. : “Prana” or “Chi”, the life forces associated with and influenced by breath, is finally being recognized in the west. “Medicine is just recognizing the importance of energy to health,” says Richard P. Brown, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. “And our most critical source of energy is oxygen.”

It has been discovered that getting more oxygen – by changing the way we breathe –allows us to facilitate healing from a number of serious health conditions such as chronic pain, atrial fibrillation, asthma, depression, digestive problems as well as a myriad of stress-related illnesses. The secret is restoring a natural pattern of breathing: one of breathing deeply and slowly. As we age and adopt stress-related ways of interacting in the world, we tend to breathe more shallowly and often more rapidly. By adulthood, we are breathing three to four times faster than is good for us. Over time, this rapid breathing – often as high as 20 breaths a minute – can impede our health in a serious way.

Rapid, shallow breathing sends a message to our adrenal glands that we’re in fight-or-flight mode, and they begin pumping out stress hormones such as cortisol and other stress related substances. When the body is stressed it is weakened: less able to maintain health and fight disease. The immune system is compromised, less able to fight pathogens and disease cells.

Fortunately there are some simple methods to reverse faulty breathing habits and instead, establish healthy ways to breathe in and out daily, hourly and moment by moment. The following are three simple exercises to promote healthy breathing and optimal health:

Diaphragmatic Breathing

What it is: Breathing that involves expanding the belly, which increases oxygen in the lungs.

How it can help: Improves circulation; eases stress-related and anxiety disorders; speeds recovery from treatments such as chemotherapy.

What to do: Lie on your back on a comfortable surface and bend your knees. Place one hand just below your rib cage and the other hand on your upper chest. Breathe slowly through your nose against your lower hand. As you exhale, tighten your abs slightly and let them become flat. Do this exercise three times a day for several minutes, gradually increasing the amount of minutes. In time, you will learn to breathe this way automatically.

Alternate-Nostril Breathing

What it is: An ancient yogic technique designed to promote relaxation.

How it can help: Reduces blood pressure; may have an anti-obesity effect; boosts special brain function

What to do: Close your right nostril with your right thumb and inhale through your left nostril. Next, close your left nostril with your pinky and ring finger, release your thumb and exhale slowly through your right nostril. Keep the right nostril open, inhale, and then close it. Open the left nostril and exhale slowly through the left. This completes one “round”. Start with three rounds and work up to four and then five weekly. Use this style of breathing whenever you feel stressed out or depleted.

The Bellows Breath

What it is: A breathing exercise that increases alertness.

How it can help: Provides a boost in energy and a calm alertness.

What to do: With your mouth closed, inhale and exhale quickly and evenly through your nose. Try to do three in-out cycles per second, stopping after 15 seconds your first time. Keep practicing, gradually increasing the time by 5 seconds, until you reach a minute. When you feel your energy dip or fatigue set in, try this breathing style for a minute and notice the results.

Try each breathing method with patience and practice. Begin to notice your body and the results of slowing down the breath. See if your energy can be revitalized by the Bellows Breath. Trust that some effects are taking place without direct awareness. Change takes time, so allow patience to be your guide.

Welcome to healthy breathing and increased wellness for the rest of your life!

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