A friend and I were once in one my favorite bookstores, The Spotty Dog, looking at books with the themes of philosophy, spirituality, and mindfulness. We began discussing breathing with intention and purpose. I concluded that “When we can control our breathe we are better able to control our life”. My friend had a different, and powerful, take. He responded “I do not completely agree. We are kidding ourselves if we think we are in complete control of our lives. But, controlling our breathe allows us to have control of how we take action towards life.” Many years have passed since this conversation in the bookstore but it has been one of the more insightful moments.
My yoga teacher has explained in numerous ways how many people can go through life without having the opportunity of having a true breathe. Perhaps you can focus on your breathe for a moment. Where is it coming from? I have often asked this question in classes, or during individual sessions, and a common response is from the chest or rib/lung areas. Are you expanding on an inhale? Not always. At some point we have heard the term “Suck it in!” in which we inhale deeply and suck in our bellies for the effect of being more slim. Here are the common blocks that do not allow many of us to experience the breathe as a mode of relaxation and intention.
The best part of intentional and mindful breathing is that it can be done nearly anywhere. Deep breathing can be practiced while working at a desk, driving, watching television, etc. Let’s try it. Sitting up tall place one hand on the belly and one hand on the chest. Take a few normal breathes and take note of where the breathe is coming from. Now, it is time to adjust. When you inhale, feel the belly expand first leading the breath up into the lungs, then the chest, and lastly the throat. Hold it for a moment. When you begin to exhale, release the breathe slowly, feeling the chest drop then the lungs, and lastly the belly sinking in. This practice of Long- Deep Breathing itself has many benefits including:
- Relaxing and calming
- Reduces and prevents the build-up of toxins in the lungs
- Stimulates endorphins to help fight depression
- Stimulates the feeling of being alert
- Increases energy
- Cleanses the circulatory system
- Helps to break subconscious habits such as insecurities and fears
- Gives capacity to manage negativity and emotions, supporting clarity, and patience
Another popular technique of mindful breathing is Alternate Nostril Breathing has a number of benefits to find calm during the trials of life. The breath in this technique is also deep and relaxed.
How to Practice Alternate Nostril Breathing:
- Sit in a comfortable position with the spine long and the hips relaxed. Release any tension from your jaw. Close your eyes.
- Place the index finger on the left nostril, and the thumb on the right nostril.
- Prepare to use the index finger to open and close the left nostril and use the thumb for the right nostril.
- On an exhalation, close the right nostril with your thumb and breathe out through the left nostril.
- Breathe in through the left nostril and then close with the index finger.
- Release the thumb on the right nostril and breathe out through the right nostril.
- Inhale through the right nostril, close with the thumb, release the index finger from the left side and exhale through the left nostril.
- This is one round of Alternate Nostril Breath.
- Perform 4-9 rounds of this alternating breath between the nostrils.
- Remember to always inhale through the same nostril you just exhaled through.
- Allow the breath to be smooth and even without creating force or pressure.
The benefits of alternate nostril breathing include:
- The whole brain functions together by balancing the right and left hemispheres
- Creates a sense of well-being on the physical, mental, and emotional levels
- Can help with headaches, migraines, and other stress-related symptoms
- Inhale left, exhale right. Helps to make you calm and helps to regulate negative emotions and stress. This breath is great on its own before bed.
- Inhale right, exhale left. Helps to gain clarity and adjust to a positive mood. It helps to focus on what is important.
- Breathing through the left nostril helps to increase calmness, sensitivity, and empathy
- Breathing through the right nostril helps to increase vigor, alertness, will-power, and concentration
These two types of intentional breathes are useful for when it is time to have a mental time out and time for self-care is needed. Each breathe can become effective in as little as 3 minutes and can be continued for up to 31 minutes. Sometimes it can feel like life is out of control and not within our grasps. However, in good health, we have control over our breathe and how we continue to use it. With that we have control over ourselves during unprecedented times, times in which we are stressed and overwhelmed, or in the moments when we simply need a breather. The importance of control of the breathe allows us to have the realization that we can be in control of ourselves.
Psychotherapist / Kundalini Yoga Instructor