The Science of Breath

From the very first moment we come into existence on this earth until our last, our breath is with us the whole way. The quality of those breaths however can determine our physical and mental wellbeing plays out in all those moments in between. The following article will provide you easy to follow and simple exercises to make sure you enjoy the amazing health benefits that correct, deep breathing gives you.

 

Breath plays a pivotal role in your overall health and wellbeing inside your body. It performs many basic functions for your system to survive and thrive. When we suffer from issues such a stress, anxiety or poor posture, our breathing suffers. Without a deep, steady flow of oxygen into the body, our basic functions began to perform at sub-par levels and invite imbalance in your physical and mental wellbeing.

 

Ancient Eastern breathing techniques have been passed down through the centuries, and slowly made their way to the Western world through various yoga teachings. Entire books have been written on the benefits of correct breathing and the techniques to make sure that you are ‘breathing in’ optimal health. The following is a few short exercises that I teach and use due to their calming effects and most importantly, their simplicity.

 

The Complete Breath

To begin with the complete breath, we break the technique into parts (you may like to try this exercise lying down for the first few practices). The first is to breathe just into the upper part of your chest. Feel what muscles you use and the amount of oxygen you can bring in with just the top part of the chest engaging. Second, breathe only into the middle section of the chest, focusing on expanding the ribs up and out to draw oxygen into the body. The final section is the stomach. Draw a long deep breath just using your stomach, feeling the muscles drawing down and out. Picture your stomach as a balloon slowly and steadily filling with oxygen as your muscles expand out and down.

The complete breath is the combination of all three in sequence from stomach to the middle section and finally into the upper chest. Over-emphasise the three stages in the beginning to make sure each is being exercised correctly. As your practice improves over time and your muscles familiarise with the motion, you will find this becomes more easier and more fluid. While the aim is to fill the lungs completely, don’t burst a blood vessel doing so! It’s designed to be relaxing, so take each motion slow and steady. Normally I would do 8-12 cycles in bed as I wake up or before I am about to go to sleep. It’s a great way to relax before sleep or feel energised and focussed for the day ahead.

 

 Rhythmic Breathing

Taking the complete breath a step further, rhythmic breathing is the ultimate tool to bring a sense of calm and wellbeing into your day to day life. This practice combines the complete breath as instructed above along with the natural rhythm of your own body using your heartbeat as a tool. Sitting or lying in a quiet, relaxed environment, obtain your heartbeat through the wrist or neck. Once you have your rhythm, inhale a complete breath and count the number of beats it takes to complete one inhale (make sure it’s an even number). If your count is 6 for example, inhale for 6 beats, and hold your breath for half the amount (3), then exhale for 6 beats. Hold your breath again for 3 beats then begin the round again through an inhale of 6 beats.  Like the complete breathing exercise before, be gentle in the exercise and start on around 5 or 6 rounds to begin and work your way up. The same rule applies for the number of beats you take on the inhale and exhale. Just take it to a limit you are comfortable with and work your way up over time.

 

Confucius said that “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated”. Health and wellbeing sometimes feels a lot like that, allowing us to overlook practices that appear too simple to be effective. This is a great practice and so easy to do. I hope that you give it a go and enjoy the many benefits it can bring.