The Art of Breathing by Cheryl Alker

breathing inThe weather at this time of year just wants to make you take a good long breath and enjoy the benefits of fresh air but did you know just how good for you that breath could be?

Of course, we all know how to breathe. It is something that occurs to us automatically, spontaneously, naturally. We are breathing even when we are not aware of it. So it seems foolish to think that we should take time to learn how to breathe or focus on the quality of our breath. Yet, our breathing often becomes modified and restricted in various ways, not just momentarily, but habitually. We develop unhealthy habits without being aware of it. Our posture can greatly affect our capacity to breathe efficiently, it is therefore vital for us to address good postural alignment.  A slouched position will reduce the ability of our diaphragm (the main breathing muscle) to work efficiently and will diminish lung capacity.

Oxygen is the most vital nutrient for our bodies.  It is essential for the health of the brain, nerves, glands and internal organs. One of the major secrets of vitality and rejuvenation is a purified blood stream. The quickest and most effective way to purify the blood is by taking in extra supplies of oxygen from the air we breathe. By purifying the blood stream, every part of the body benefits, as well as the mind. Your complexion will become clearer and brighter and wrinkles will begin to fade away. In short, rejuvenation will start to occur.

The average person reaches peak respiratory function and lung capacity in their mid-20’s then they begin to lose respiratory capacity between 9% and 25% for every decade of life.  So, unless you are doing something to maintain or improve your breathing capacity, it will decline, and with it, your general health and your life expectancy. In fact the respiratory system should be responsible for eliminating 70% of your metabolic waste.

Out of all the fitness techniques in the world yoga has to be, without a doubt, the “King” of utilizing and understanding the power of the breath. The art of breathing is known as pranayama and several techniques are practiced.

In past posts I have explained the “Cleansing Breath” and “Alternate Nostril Breathing”, below are three more techniques for you to add to your armor.

Ujjayi pranayama: Ujjayi breathing (to become victorious or to gain mastery) consists of a gentle breath that is both relaxed and energized, allowing for a balance. Ujjayi pranayama sounds simple enough, in and out through your nose, but on each exhale, you should attempt to make the sound of an ocean wave in the back of your throat, you can achieve this by constricting the back of the throat, similar to the constriction made when speaking in a whisper. It’s important that you’re not trying to ingest more air, but shift the quality of your breath.

Benefits of Ujjayi pranayama include:

  • improved concentration,
  • release of tension
  • diminished pain from headaches
  • relief of sinus pressure
  • decrease in phlegm
  • strengthening of the nervous and digestive systems

Kapalabhati pranayama: Kapalabhati is known as the skull-shining breath for good reason. It may feel a little weird at first, but once you get the hang of it, your head and body will both feel far lighter. To begin, start with a deep inhale and forcefully exhale — drawing all the air out of your belly. After your next full inhale, begin to exhale forcefully out through your nose 15 to 30 times quickly without taking an inhale; actively draw your belly in with each percussive exhale. After you’ve completed a full cycle of 15 to 30 quick exhales, passively inhale and exhale for a few breaths and enjoy before another round.

Benefits of Kapalabhati pranayama include:-

  • Relaxation
  • Weight loss
  • Minimizes risks of infections and allergies in the respiratory system.
  • Improves flexibility of the diaphragm
  • Improved energy levels

Sithali pranayama: This is a great technique for those of us living in Florida. It is a cooling breath that has an immediate effect on your entire body’s temperature. Begin by curling up your tongue into a tube-like passage. Inhale through your mouth (keeping your tongue just like this!), then close your mouth and hold your breath for five to 10. Exhale slowly through your nose. Repeat for 15 to 20 times — or whenever you feel sufficiently cooled off! This is a great quick fix if you’re feeling superhot or sticky.

Benefits of Sithali Pranayama include:-

  • Improved focus
  • Reduce agitation, anger and anxiety
  • Pacify excess heat in the system

So go on take a breather, it’s good for you!

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