Breathe through whatever life throws at you. Image source - http://commons.wikimedia.org
In Part 1 we explored the power of our breath and learnt its importance in our lives. In this Part 2 I will give you a rundown of some breathing exercises to try. Which one suits you?
How can you begin to control and focus on your breathing?
To get started you first need to notice and really focus on what your body does when you breathe. Start by placing one hand on the upper part of your chest, and the other hand on your stomach.
Here are some breathing exercises you can try:
Diaphragmatic breathing also known as Belly breathing:
Definition of Diaphragm taken from Wikipedia:
"The thoracic diaphragm, or simply the diaphragm, is a sheet of internal skeletal muscle that extends across the bottom of the rib cage. The diaphragm separates the thoracic cavity (heart, lungs & ribs) from the abdominal cavity and performs an important function in respiration: as the diaphragm contracts, the volume of the thoracic cavity increases and air is drawn into the lungs."
This type of breathing really does seem strange at first, because it is probably the opposite way you would normally breathe. It's basically breathing through your nose while making sure you push your stomach outwards, almost like a balloon is blown up and not in. Next you exhale whilst tightening up the stomach, and allowing it to flatten inwards. This takes practice and concentration. Once you can conquer it, the benefits are worth it. Breathing this way forces you to breathe more slowly, and over time can even decrease the amount of oxygen you require. Not bad hey. It (of course) reduces stress and hyperventilation.
When I was first showed this technique, I used my hand to ensure I was doing the right tightening and flattening. I also learnt that when you are starting out, it is easier to do it while lying down. Once you are used to it, you can graduate to a sitting position. Much more convenient as you can then perform this breathing exercise wherever you are. If you wish to do it lying down, you could also place a book, magazine or pamphlet on your stomach so you can see it moving correctly with each rise and fall.
Alternate nostril breathing:
I have never actually done this one myself in fact I only heard about it the first time a couple of weeks ago. It involves doing exactly what it is called. You close off one nostril and focus all your attention on breathing in and out through the other nostril. Apparently this is often used in yoga practices. This is done to a certain number for both the in breath and out breath.
Incorporating arm movement into breathing exercises :
Some find this more comfortable and relaxing. I guess it depends upon how often you use your hands. I use my hands often when I talk so for me it would probably work well. This type of breathing exercise can apparently increase your lung capacity. Maybe doing this over a period of time could mean you could swim underwater for a longer timer.
It is good because you can incorporate some stretching into your breathing exercise. Which, can be very freeing and can help give you a bit of a power boost and an extra dose of motivation.
Focusing on your lungs:
Filling your lungs with air, feeling the air going deep down into your lungs. Imagine and picture your lungs expanding with a refreshing and powerful burst of air.
This is when you inhale through the nose for about five seconds. Then you exhale through your nose for about five seconds, and a humming sound should emerge as long as you're doing it correctly. Keep trying until you master it. Once you have mastered it, you can even try to hum during your inhale. Sounds very difficult doesn't it?
Have a favourite place or setting that you adore? This should be a relaxing, pleasant and safe place. Close your eyes and try to picture it. It can be imaginary or real. Perhaps you have been there before, or you hope to one day. As you breathe, slowly and calmly picture the whole setting in your mind. What can you see, hear, feel, smell and touch whilst there? What is the weather like? Are you there alone? You could always have a picture or photo of this place to help you with your visualisation if possible. You can go to this calm place whenever and where ever you want, and no one even has to know. It can be our little secret.
Counting the breathe:
Often when we are anxious or stressed ,we are over breathing unnecessarily. To return our breath to its regular pace, we can slowly breathe in whilst counting to a particular number, say five counts. Hold the breathe for a few seconds for say, four counts. Then slowly breathe out to a number also, for say six. Example: whilst taking a breathe in, count to five slowly, 1,2,3,4,5. Now hold the breathe for four counts, 1,2,3,4. Then breathe out extending it to the count of six, 1,2,3,4,5,6. Repeat this at least ten to fifteen times for it to take effect.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation:
This is really an amazing feeling, and if you have never experienced it; I would definitely recommend that you do. Why? This is using your breathing to relax those major muscles in the body. Those muscles that we use the most, and are the most susceptible to hold the bulk of our tensions. It's probably one of the most time consuming breathing exercises, however it is relaxing you from head to toe by concentrating on a section of the body at a time.
It's really all about tensing up a muscle for a few seconds, and then releasing and relaxing with the feeling if all of the tension is being stripped away. Prepare to feel a tingly sensation and a lightness throughout your body. I find it extremely helpful to do this to someone actually talking you through it. That way you don't have to try to remember what comes next. It's a lot to remember whilst also breathing and relaxing. Calm classical music or nature sounds also enhances this experience.
Famous Olympic athletes use this technique to get a good nights sleep before their performance.
Why is it worth it?
As you get better at your breathing exercises, you will be able to increase the time you can take in the breath; as well as the length you can hold the breathe, and the length you can expand the exhale of the breath.
Learning to breath properly can increase your lung capacity and even your energy levels. Remember, it is also a fantastic way to calm yourself down.
Try one, try some, or try them all. It's up to you. If you feel uncomfortable, light headed or have difficulty breathing; then cease the breathing exercise, and if necessary seek medical attention.
It's all about finding the breathing exercise that is right for you.
Look out for Part 3 of 'Just Breathe' where I will explore some of the masters of breathing, websites and apps you can use to enhance both your breathing and your relaxation.