Breathing Exercises: How to Benefit from Deliberate Respiration
“The air of ideas is the only air worth breathing.” – Edith Wharton
Just as your body responds in specific ways to the foods you consume, so too is it affected by certain breathing exercises. You’ve probably heard the slogan “you are what you eat.” The same notion can be applied to respiration — thus the introduction of a new slogan: “you are how you breathe.”
The fact that deep breathing techniques can improve specific aspects of your health such as digestion, posture, stress level and mood has been well documented. Yet, in order to reap the benefits of mindful respiration, it is important to understand exactly how to perform these exercises for optimal benefit. Learning how to fully inhale, expand the diaphragm, fill up the lungs, hold in the air and exhale completely are essential components of enhanced breathing. As you practice specific methods, it is helpful to track your progress — which can be done by wearing biosensing clothing.
Reverse Shortness of Breath
Stressful situations trigger your body’s fight-or-flight response wherein considerable amounts of cortisol and adrenaline are released. This causes breathing to become shallow and fast-paced, which in turn affects your body’s ability to reap the benefits of complete breathing.
You can counter this by practicing pursed-lip breathing. This is done by first inhaling at a normal rate through the nose for two counts. Then pucker your lips as though you are going to whistle, and then steadily exhale through pursed lips to the count of “one, two, three, four.” Prolonged exhalation slows your breathing rate, making it easier to relax while completely emptying your lungs at the end of each breath cycle.
Strengthen Your Diaphragm
Chronic stress, bad posture, weight issues, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and other conditions can cause the involuntary abdominal breathing muscle known as the diaphragm to become atrophied, and less effective. This causes air that should be routinely exhaled to remain trapped in the lungs. Meanwhile, your neck and chest muscles must work overtime so that respiration can continue.
Diaphragmatic breathing is an exercise that deliberately engages the diaphragm in order to strengthen it and restore breathing to the effortless activity it should be. To practice this, place one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen. As you inhale, concentrate on stretching your abdominal muscles outward with each breath, using your lower hand to mark the movement.
Meanwhile, your upper hand should remain stationary with each cycle, so that your chest muscles are not engaging in the work meant for your diaphragm. You should do this for up to 10 minutes several times a day. As your diaphragm becomes stronger, your breathing with become fuller and less labored.
Calm Your Thoughts
The frenzied rhythms of daily life have a tendency to wind people up both mentally and physically. As your mind chatters on and on about all of your impending obligations, your body responds yet again with rapid-paced shortness of breath. This state of being can make it difficult to relax, especially if you intend to meditate or concentrate on a singular focus. Alternating nostril technique is an ancient breathing exercise proven to reduce stress and fatigue, and is an ideal exercise for delving deeper into meditation or to prepare to face a high-intensity situation.
Lightly place your right thumb on your right nostril and your right ring and middle fingers on your left nostril. Close your right nostril, then exhale and inhale through your left. Repeat this cycle by closing your left nostril and exhaling and then inhaling through your right. Continue this pattern for five to 10 breaths. The rotation serves to harmonize the left and right hemispheres of the brain, allowing you to center your mind.
Ease into Relaxation
The stress and anxiety endemic of today’s 24/7 culture means rising rates of insomnia as people trade sleep for digital distraction. As you probably know, lack of sleep is a contributing factor to many health problems such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and many more.
Thankfully, the inability to transition into a relaxed state conducive to falling asleep can be countered with the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise.
Begin by exhaling completely, then inhaling through your nose for a count of four. Hold the air in for a count of seven, and then exhale through your mouth for a count of eight. Perform this cycle a total of four times. This quickly serves to increase blood oxygen levels, making easier to achieve a state of relaxation and calmness.
Fortify Your Mind
In an age where the desire to accomplish great things is commonplace, the mental discipline to actually do so can be rare. If you are goal-oriented with your sights set on a life of achievement, you may encounter great difficulty in this age of abounding distractions.
Fostering the ability to concentrate on a singular task is possible, however, through breath counting meditation. This is done by settling into a rhythm of inhaling for a one count, holding your breath for a one count and then exhaling for a one count — being sure to use your diaphragm as described above. Each breath cycle counts as “one.” Count your breath cycles all the way up to ten, and then in reverse back down to one. If your mind wanders and you lose count, you must start over at the beginning until you can go from one to ten and back down to one again. Once you can successfully do this twice a day, move up to 20, then to 30 and so on. This will strengthen your mental ability to focus on an objective and follow a course of action to fruition.
Utilizing these breathing exercises can greatly enhance your quality of life. Once you are set on improving your respiration and your health in general, you can monitor your progress through wearable tech specifically designed to monitor your breathing and measure your breathing rates. Specially designed smart clothing provides you with in-depth insight into your breathing patterns as well as invaluable information on your quality of sleep, your stress levels and your general activity profile. Effective breathing exercises are like a healthy diet — you are how you breathe.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.