Today we will focus on something that impacts your health more profoundly than anything else: your breath. Proper breathing is an important component of our qigong and tai chi practice, but there is never a bad time to bring mindfulness to your breathing.
Many methods have been developed to help people breathe more effectively. Two well-known approaches are the Buteyko method (which focuses on not OVER-breathing) and the Stott method (which is used in Pilates training). All breathing practices share some basic principles. Below are three of the primary techniques. Give these a try!
1 - Breathe through your nose
This is especially important when breathing in. Your nose cleanses the air coming into your body, while your mouth does not. In addition, when you find yourself breathing through your mouth it is likely that you are breathing too heavily, or you are stressed in some way. If this happens, slow down, try to relax, and begin breathing quietly and softly through your nose. Bring awareness to your breathing, and your whole mood might change!
2 - Breathe into your diaphragm
As Elmo puts it in an instructional video for kids, “Belly Breathe!” There are many benefits of breathing this way. They range from reducing harmful effects of cortisol (stress hormone) to lowering heart rate and blood pressure. Healthline has a full discussion of the benefits.
An easy way to practice diaphragmatic breathing is to relax with one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. As you begin to relax, breathe in a way that causes the hand on your belly to rise more than the hand on your chest. It may be helpful to focus on beginning the breath with the lowering/expansion of the muscles in the base of your diaphragm. Otherwise, you may be chest-breathing while pushing out your belly - not the same thing.
Periodically during the day, take a moment to be mindful of your breath, and if needed, focus on breathing into your belly. Over time, it will begin to feel more natural to breathe by expanding your diaphragm rather than your chest.
NOTE: One of the common mistakes people make with this technique is to take in too much air. The goal is not to breathe MORE air, but rather to change the WAY your body pulls in the air. Deep breathing is not the same as “big breathing.”
Photo by silviarita
3 - Balance your breaths
Pay attention to your in-breath and your out-breath. Are they out of balance? Mindfully breathe in, counting as you do so. Then breathe out, focusing on keeping your exhale the same length as your inhale. Practitioners of yoga use this technique, aiming for longer, slower breaths to calm the nervous system and even combat insomnia.
You might also want to try the 4-7-8 breathing method. Recommended by Dr. Andy Weil, the “Relaxing Breath” is a quick exercise that can help you relax if you’re feeling stressed. It may also help if you’re suffering from insomnia.
Please share any insights you have, or other breathing practices that work well for you.