One of the most profound healing techniques is free – and right under your nose! According to Andrew Weil, MD, one of the leaders in integrative medicine, learning how to breathe correctly is probably the most important practice you can use to support good health.
Breath control can provide many health benefits. It can:
- Lower blood pressure;
- Reduce or eliminate heart arrhythmias;
- Relieve chronic indigestion;
- Increase blood circulation throughout your body;
- Improve immune function;
- Decrease anxiety;
- Improve sleep;
- Improve energy; and
- Improve your sense of well-being.
Breathing is both a voluntary and involuntary process. Thus, it is the only function of the body where you can access and control your involuntary (autonomic) nervous system functions (such as circulation, digestion, heart rate, and other vital functions). Imbalances of the involuntary nervous system are at the root of many disorders (including disorders of digestion, high blood pressure, or irregular heart rhythms). Breath control can be a positive intervention for these health conditions.
There are several guidelines and methods to help you practice the healing art of breathing. They include the following:
- Observe your breath. Following your breath should be a pleasant and relaxing process and result in your body and mind feeling “neutral.”
- Practice breathe work for at least five minutes each day.
- Make your breathing slow, deep, and regular. If your mind strays – and it often will – bring your attention back to your breath.
- Breathe from your abdomen. As you take a breath, your belly should expand (not your chest).
- Begin with an exhalation first. Picture your breath as a circle of inhalations and exhalations. By exhaling first, the normal way of thinking about breathing is reversed and this may help you focus more clearly on your breathing.
- Squeeze out more air with every breath. As you get to the end of your exhalation, try to breathe out just a little more air than normal. This forces you to take in more air during your inhalation.
- Imagine that, with each breath, the universe is blowing breath into you. Let yourself feel that the breath is penetrating every part of your body, including your fingers and toes. With each exhalation, imagine that breath is withdrawn.
Now that you understand some basics of breath work, try this simple relaxing breath exercise to achieve a sense of relaxation and calm.
- Sit on a cushion or comfortable chair, or lie down. Your back should be straight. Use pillows if you need them to be comfortable during the session.
- Choose a time of day when you are fairly awake. If you are alert, you might want to close your eyes. If you are drowsy or tired, you might want to keep your eyes open.
- Choose a time to practice breath work during which you will not be interrupted. Turn off all electronic devices.
- Begin by taking two or three deep breaths.
- Let go of thoughts of the past and future, and allow your body and mind to relax.
- Close your mouth lightly. Inhale through your nose to the count of 4.
- Hold your breath for a count of 7.
- Exhale audibly through your mouth to the count of 8.
- If thoughts, sounds, feelings, or physical sensations enter your awareness, gently bring your attention back to your breathing.
- Repeat these steps three more times, for a total of four breath cycles. Then breathe normally and notice if there are any changes in how your body feels.
There are many techniques that can be used in breath work to enhance well-being. Experiment with several of them until you find one that works well for you. Then practice the techniques regularly. Enjoy!
Weil, A. (2008). Better Breathing: A key to wellness. Natural Healing. January 15, 2008, pp. 44-47.