Monday, November 7, 2011

Manic Monday: Breathing Exercises

Last month, I wrote a blog about breathing and its importance in our physical and mental health.  Today, I'd like to give you a few breathing exercises I've used over the years to help relieve stress, relax the body, control the mind, purify the blood and just be.  Some of these I learned from practicing yoga, but others I learned from workshops or my own experimentation.  Try the ones that sound appealing to you and find a couple that work. For all of them, find a quiet place and sit comfortably on a chair or some pillows.  If you need to, support your back on the chair or a wall, but don't slouch or lean.  Sit straight up, erect but relaxed.

In yoga, breathing is often called Pranayama (although the meaning and practice of this word is much deeper).  Breathing is at the heart of every yoga posture and practice, so it's essential to learn from the beginning.  One of my favorite exercises when I studied yoga was Alternate Nostril Breathing.  In this technique, your right hand should face you and be in Vishnu Mudra, which means your index and middle finger are closed, with your thumb, ring and little finger extended (try it now; it's harder than it sounds).

Close your right nostril with your thumb and breathe in through your left nostril for a count of six.  Close your left nostril with the other two fingers (holding your breath) for a count of six.  Remove your thumb from your right nostril and breath out for a count of six.  Close your right nostril again with your thumb, holding your breath for six.  Release your thumb again, inhaling through your right nostril for a count of six.  Hold the breath at the top again for six.  Then, release the left nostril and breath out for six.  This is one complete cycle.

The times of breathing in and out vary depending on the teacher.  You can change the times for yourself finding whatever is more comfortable or increasing the time to challenge yourself a little.  According to yoga tradition, this can benefit the mind by balancing both sides of the brain.  Many yogis believe that this exercise increases both logic and creativity, while relaxing the mind and the nervous system.

Another breathing exercise that is simple and effective is diaphragmatic breathing.  Here, you want to breath into the belly until it is fully extended and then continue to fill up the upper lungs.  This fills your lung capacity, which can bring more oxygen to your blood and clean your lungs.  Be sure to breathe in through your nose.  When you breathe in, picture relaxing light and color filling up your lungs and dispersing to your body.  When you exhale (through you mouth or nose), release the air slowly while imagining that tension, toxins and negativity are leaving your body.

Cyclical breathing is similar to the yogic breathing technique above, but without the hands.  For this exercise, you breathe in, hold the breath, breathe out and hold the breath for the same amount of time.  For example, breathe in for a count of eight, hold the breath at the top for eight, breathe out for a count of eight, then hold the breath again for eight.  Once completed, you start the cycle over again.  This takes some practice, so some people may get lightheaded at first.  Don't overdo it.  Start with a small number and work up to longer periods.

With all these exercises, start with at least five minutes a day in the morning or evening.  Once you begin to see the benefits of breathing exercises, you will probably want to increase the time to 10 minutes, then 20 minutes.  Two ten minute sessions a day is ideal, giving you maximum benefits.  And remember to breathe throughout the day, especially during times of stress.  Be healthy!

Mystic Merman

1 comment:

  1. I didn't get the index finger and middle finger closed technique. are you sure it's those two fingers? I did breathing today with the index finger and ring finger closed. Sheesh, that was hard! lol! Breathing exercises are sooo relaxing. Almost fell asleep in the tub!