Guided Breathing Exercises

 

Full Body Breathing Improves Health: Meditation and specialized diaphragmatic breathing exercises help to oxygenate the body, which improves overall health. It calms and de-stresses, detoxifies the body, reduces pain, and stimulates the lymphatic system (which is responsible for ridding the body of toxins.) It increases cardiovascular capacity, which makes exercising more productive and helps to regulate weight. (The extra oxygen in the body helps burn excess fat more efficiently). More oxygen increases energy, improves digestion, lowers blood pressure, improves sleep and strengthens the immune system. More energy is provided to the cells to aid in healing. Deep breathing exercises increases the lung’s capacity and strengthens the major organs of the body (such as lungs and the heart).


Full Body Breathing Improves Mental State: Deep breathing and meditation help to oxygenate the system and increase the neurochemicals in the brain which elevate mood and produce clearer thinking (less ‘brain-fog), reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety (which help you avoid burnout and increase coping and problem-solving skills). Meditation produces a greater sense of calm and well-being.

Are you a chronic shallow breather?

 

Many people breathe from the top of their lungs (chronic shallow breathing) and don’t draw air fully into the bottom of the lungs. The Alveoli are tiny sacs in the lungs that allow the life giving exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. In chronic shallow breathing you only use the top third of your lungs’ potential. As a result, you do not fully oxygenate the body. Poor breathing habits weaken the functioning of almost every major system in the body. The simple act of incorporating better breathing habits will benefit every body.  The following are signs of shallow breathing:

 

1. You inhale with your chest. When you begin inhaling (breathing in), you may notice that your chest is the first thing to move, typically going up or slightly forward. If so, this is a sign that you are engaging in shallow or upper chest breathing. Try "Full Body Breathing" by pulling the breath down into the abdominal area. Let the belly expand (go ahead, no one is looking!)

 

2. Your rib cage doesn’t expand to the side. If you place your hands on either side of your rib cage when you breathe, you should notice that your hands move to the side about 1-2 inches as your trunk widens. If not, this can also be a sign of shallow breathing.

 

3. You’re breathing with your mouth. Do you find that even when you’re not exercising, you often breathe IN and OUT through your mouth? Unless you have a sinus infection or congestion that keeps you from breathing through your nose, your mouth should be closed. Try to breathe deeply through your nasal cavity. Follow the sensation of your breath as you draw air in through your nose and then fully into your lungs. Feel your diaphragm (the muscle that controls your breathing) pull down and allow your lungs to fully expand. In a restful state you can exhale through the nose. You can also exhale from the mouth through slightly parted lips with your tongue placed against the roof of your mouth (behind the teeth). This slows down the breath and allows for a full exhale. Or if you want to cleanse the body of toxins, exhale a few times from the mouth at back of the throat (like you are fogging a mirror).

 

4. Your upper neck, chest, and shoulder muscles are tight. Do you carry tension in the muscles around your neck? If you reach back and feel those muscles, do they feel painful, tender, or tight? If so, this can be a sign that you are engaging in stressed and shallow breathing. Just relax and take a few full body breaths.

 

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Try a few of the exercises below and see how much better you feel.

 

The Full Body Breath
 

Stand or sit erect. Breathing through the nostrils, inhale steadily, first filling the lower part of the lungs, which is accomplished by bringing into play the diaphragm, which pushes the front walls of the abdomen forward and creates a cavity for the lungs to expand into. Then fill the middle part of the lungs, pushing out the lower ribs, breastbone and chest. Then fill the higher portion of the lungs, protruding the upper chest, thus lifting the chest, including the upper six or seventh pairs of ribs. In the final movement, the lower part of the abdomen will be slightly drawn in, which gives the lungs support and also helps to fill the highest part of the lungs. Avoid any jerky breaths. Inhalation is a continuous, uniform movement.  

 
Retain the breath a few seconds.


Exhale slowly, holding the chest in a firm position, and drawing the abdomen in a little and lifting it upward slowly as the air leaves the lungs (exhale from the bottom up, pulling the navel to the spine). When the air is entirely exhaled, relax the chest and abdomen. All parts of the respiratory system are brought into play, and all parts of the lungs, including the most remote air cells, are exercised and cleansed. The chest cavity is expanded in all directions and the internal organs get a 'massage' as the lungs expand and contract. This is full body breathing. 

 

Coherent Breathing (5/5 or 6/6)
 

The following exercise is given in the seated position but you can also do this exercise standing or lying down. Remember to keep your back straight.


Sit: Sit in a comfortable position with the spine straight. Relax your neck, shoulders and entire body. Close your eyes and mouth and breathe only through your nose for this exercise.


Inhale/Exhale: Breathe in through your nose slowly and count to 5 or 6 (see note below), then slowly exhale through the nose to the same count.


Note: When the breath is slowed down to between 3.5 - 6 breaths per minute (equal counts on the inhale and exhale), the body starts to come into balance and the electrical rythyms of the heart, lungs and brain start to syncronize. This is called the resonant rate*. This rate also increases the flexibility of the heart's ability to adjust it's heart beat rate (a good thing). On average this happens at 5 breaths per minute (called the Coherent Rate). For 5 breath cycles per minute: 60 seconds in a minute, divided by 5 breath cycles = 12 seconds for each cycle. Since you breathe in equal counts for this exercise, that leaves 6 seconds for the inhale and 6 seconds for the exhale in each cycle. You can look at a second hand or just count slowly to 5 or 6 and you will most likely be in the Coherent range.

 

The rates do differ with height, so for those over 6 feet tall, the resonant rate may be closer to 3 or 4 breaths per minute (so try counting 10/10, 9/9 or 8/8). For shorter adults it may be closer to 6 or 7 breaths per minute (so try counting 5/5 or 4/4).

 

*The Healing Power of Breath, Brown & Gerbarg

 

4-7-8 EXERCISE (Relaxation Breath)

 

The following exercise is given in the seated position but you can also do this exercise standing or lying down. Remember to keep your back straight.


Sit: Sit in a comfortable position with the spine straight and head inclined slightly forward. Move feet back slightly so your heels are slightly up and directly under your hips (like in a riding position). Your knees are soft and hold no tension and are lower than your hips (this opens up the diaphragm and chest cavity). Sense your breathing. Gently close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.


Yogi Tongue: Place the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; with your lips slightly 'puckered'.


Exhale (whoosh): exhale completely through your mouth, making a ‘whoosh’ sound (don’t engage the vocal chords, just feel the air upon your lips).


Inhale 4: close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of 4. Smile.


Hold 7: hold your breath for a count of 7. Smile.


Exhale 8 (whoosh): exhale completely through your mouth, making the ‘whoosh’ sound to a count of 8.


This is one breath cycle. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle 3 more times for a total of at least 4 breaths. Do this 4-7-8 exercise at least twice a day to notice results*. If you want lasting results (lower blood pressure etc.) try to do some breathing exercises for 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week.

 

*Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing, Dr. Andrew Weil

 

4-8 or 3-6 EXERCISE (Relaxation Breath)

 

These breathing routines are similar to the 4-7-8 exercise above but there is no holding count...you simply breathe in to a count of 4 and exhale to a count of 8 (or breathe in to a count of 3 and exhale to a count of 6). If you do the math...60 seconds divided by 12 (4+8) gives you 5 cycles in a minute when you do the 4-8 exercise. 60 seconds divided by 9 (3+6) gives you 7 cycles in a minute when you do the 3-6 exercise. The 3-6 count is not quite in the sweet spot so do this one if you need to work up to the 4-8 count.

 

 

Nadi Shodhana or (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

 

This breath is from the yogi tradition and brings calm and balance to the body, while uniting the right and left sides of the brain. Starting in a comfortable meditative pose, hold the right thumb over the right nostril and exhale through the left nostril then inhale through the left nostril. At the peak of inhalation, close off the left nostril with the ring finger, then exhale through the right nostril. Continue the pattern, inhaling through the right nostril, closing it off with the right thumb and exhaling through the left nostril. Do for 5 minutes in the morning and at night.

 

Congested?  Want to Feel More Alert?

 

If your nose is blocked or you are just feeling a little 'foggy' in the head, try this weird but effective little trick. Take 3-4 small 'feather breaths' (imagine a feather beneath your nose and breathe in and out so as not to ruffle the feather). While you take these small feather breaths tap on the sides of your nose bone a few times then on an exhale, empty the lungs of most of it's air, pinch off your nose and hold your breath while you tap between your eyebrows. Hold this breath and continue tapping between the eyebrows until you feel you need to take a breath. Repeat this a few times until you feel your sinuses open. Try it before you do your breathing exercises to feel more energized. The tapping vibrates the little bones in your nasal passages. Holding your breath while the lungs are empty elevates your CO2* slightly which opens your nasal passages (as well as your blood vessels, arteries and digestive track...so this little trick can also result in a temporary lowering of the blood pressure and may also help move things along in the digestive track.)

 

*Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a tricky little element in our body. It is a by-product of our respiration. If levels get too high we consider it a toxin in the system. But if you shallowly breathe due to stress, asthma or a cold, the over breathing can result in releasing too much CO2. A tiny amount of CO2 is needed for the oxygen to drop off of the blood molecule and get into the cells. This is the delicate balance that the body is always looking to align with. One of the reasons that meditation and breathwork are so effective in our stressful society is that it balances the oxygen in our bodies by slowing down the breath. You don't have to fully understand the science of breathing (although it is really cool stuff!), just remember to breath slowly and deeply for a few minutes each day and concentrate on the exhale. That's all. Simple stuff!