Are you breathing right ?
On an average we breathe 20000 times a day. But are we doing it right? Unfortunately most of us do not breathe correctly. The way we breath influences our physical and mental well being. Breathing properly can help reduce stress levels, boost immunity to infections and illnesses, help us get rid of chronic pain, anxiety, constipation, skin problems, where as poor breathing can lead to panic attacks and even conditions like insomnia and depression.
Mind & Breath
When we are anxious, we take short, shallow breaths. On the other hand when we are calm & relaxed our breathing is slow and deep. There exists a relation between our mind and breath. This interesting truth can be turned to good advantage, for as the mind influences the breath, so also the breath influences the mind. We can overcome stressful states by deliberate deep, harmonious breathing.
How to breathe correctly?
To breathe properly, you need to use your diaphragm – a large, dome-shaped muscle located at the base of the lungs, between the chest cavity and stomach cavity. When we breathe, this dome-shaped muscle contracts (tightens) and moves downward. This increases the space in your chest cavity, into which your lungs expand creating a lower air pressure within the lungs than outside the body. Thus, air is drawn into the lungs. This downward movement of the diaphragm also forces the stomach a little outward. If your stomach does not expand as you inhale, you are not breathing diaphragmatically. When we exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and moves upward into the chest cavity and the abdomen sinks back in. Diaphragmatic breathing is the healthiest and most natural way of breathing.
Considering how important the diaphragm is to the breathing mechanism, it is alarming how small a percentage of people breathe with it at all. There are of course many causes of faulty diaphragmatic action. ~ Poor posture is one. When a person stoops forward habitually, he cannot breathe diaphragmatically. When we are babies, we all take deep, relaxing breaths from our abdomen – watch your children when they are asleep to see how their stomach rises and falls. ~ As we get older, stress often changes the way we breathe. When we are stressed, our bodies operate on the ‘fight or flight’ response to whatever is scaring us. This means we take short sharp breaths to help prepare for the ‘fight’ we will have to face. But prolonged periods of stress mean we constantly breathe like this, only ever using the top third of our lungs.
One of the best ways to learn diaphragmatic breathing is lie flat on your back in Savasana, completely relax yourself and watch the naval rise and fall with respiration. Now place your hand on the abdomen and consciously expand the abdomen as you inhale and let it contract as you exhale. Practice it for a few minutes and then observe how mindful breathing affects the state of your body and mind. When the body is perfectly relaxed, as it is in sleep, diaphragmatic breathing becomes natural and effortless.
EXCERPT FROM THE ART & SCIENCE OF RAJA YOGA BY SWAMI KRIYANANDA
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