Carolyn Wiens

Article Summary:

Breathing exercises to help reduce stress and improve personal wellness.

Breathing Exercises

When you consider that your breath is your link to life, it takes on a whole new significance. What is SO important about breathing well? Why should we give it more attention in our search for greater health and vitality? How can we improve our breathing patterns to rebalance and revitalize our physical and mental health, especially after a long day of travel, family care or work?

These questions are well worth exploring so let's settle in for the next few moments together and learn some simple, easy to use breathing exercises you can do anytime, anywhere.

In her recent book The Breathing Book: Good Health and Vitality through Essential Breath Work, author Donna Farhi writes "Our breath is constantly rising and falling, ebbing and flowing, entering and leaving our bodies. Full body breathing is an extraordinary symphony of powerful and subtle movements that massage our internal organs, oscillate our joints and alternately tone and release all the muscles in the body. It is a full participation with life."

How often during the day do you catch yourself holding your breath or clenching your jaw,squeezing your eyes tight? When you hold tension in your body, there is a natural tendency to only breathe from the chest...commonly referred to as "shallow breathing". Every time you encounter a stressful situation, these are the very times you need to be able to automatically integrate breathing techniques, even if it's only for a few seconds.

Why is breathing well important? Breathing well will help you "re-calibrate" your physical and emotional wellbeing. It brings a sense of calm, of tranquility and peacefulness to your body and your soul. It helps "slow down" the pace of our world. This is a significant help in maintaining emotional balance.

Breathing deeply has physiological effects as well. It's an easy way to reduce your heart rate, lower your blood pressure and release tension from your neck, shoulders, back and abdomen. If you've driven a long hard day and are experiencing fatigue, one of the best remedies is to get out, get moving and breathe! I have a favourite saying...."Oxygen In, Energy Up". Write this reminder on a couple of sticky post it notes and put them in prominent places in your home or office! It's a simple, yet effective way to remind yourself that just by taking a few deep breaths, you're positively affecting your physical and mental state of being.

Why should we give our breathing more attention in our search for greater health and vitality? Fahri writes "The marriage of breath and movement is deep and abiding. Movement tells you where the breath is moving and where it is not. If you are like most people, breathing deeply means to "sniff" the nostrils together and to suck the breath in while pushing the chest out. The paradox of free breathing is that it is a result of deep relaxation, not of effort. The next time you have the chance to hold a newborn baby, notice how every single part of a child's body moves with his/her breath." It is obvious then that deep breathing is as natural to us as children, and it fades away as we mature, unless we pay it some attention.

How can we improve our breathing patterns? Let me take you through a "Self Inventory" so you'll know where you're starting from, and then be able to perceive improvements.

1. Locate your breath.
Notice if it's in the upper part or lower part of your body. Does your breath move deeply into your body or is it shallow?

2. How frequently do you breathe?
What's the tempo, the pace? (Twelve-fourteen breaths per minute are considered an average rate.)

3. What is the quality of your breath?
Is it free flowing, thick, dense, do you feel trapped in your chest? Can you get as deep as you want to? Is your breath smooth or ragged?

Giving this some thought is not a waste of time. It's valuable to your health. Don't rush. Find some quiet time to do the following exercises;.

Breathing Exercises

1) Deep Belly Breathing
When I teach this to young kids in my yoga class, I call this "Balloon Breathing", because on the inhale I want you to inflate your balloon (the belly) and on the exhale I want you to deflate (flatten) the balloon. Sit in a comfortable position, place your hands on your belly, one above and one below the navel. Inflate the belly with a long inhalation, and then exhale by deflating the belly, and drawing the navel in towards your spine. Repeat these inhalations and exhalations for at least 10 breaths for stress reduction and a sense of calm.

2) Alternate Nostril Breathing
This is a great technique to bring balance the right and left hemispheres of the brain. It also soothes and calms the nerves, a wonderful thing when you're stressed. Sit in a comfortable position. Use the right hand; fold the index and third fingers inwards to touch the palm near the base of the thumb. The cycle for breathing is as follows:

  1. Close the left nostril with the ring finger, and inhale completely through the right nostril.
  2. Close the right nostril with your right thumb, and release the ring finger off the left nostril and exhale through the left nostril.
  3. Inhale through the left nostril.
  4. Close the left nostril with the ring finger, and release the thumb off the right nostril and exhale through the right nostril.

Repeat this cycle at least 5 times. I once taught this technique to a client over the phone when he was struggling to gain control over his emotions. This is also a great technique to teach children to use before bedtime, or before a big test at school.

3) Three Part Breath
I find this technique very intriguing...it is designed to teach you to lengthen your exhalations, so that you will naturally deepen your inhalations. Again, this is a great technique to bring anxiety under control, to assist you in falling asleep, to release tension. To begin, take a normal breath, and then exhale in 3 distinct parts, with a slight pause between each exhale. Inhale again, and then exhale in 3 distinct parts. Ensure you're not exhaling during the pauses. Don't struggle with this technique, and try for 10 cycles. Eventually, you'll notice that your inhalations are longer, and a peacefulness will wash over you.

In all of the above breathing exercises, take the time to notice and feel the effects within your body before you move onto your next activity or conversation. You'll be amazed at how good you feel! Remember, the choices you make today regarding your nutritional intake, your activity level and the amount of rest, relaxation and hydration you get will all have an impact on your future.

Carolyn Wiens owns Sunrise Lifestyle Coaching & Yoga Studio in Simcoe, Ontario, Canada. As a certified Lifestyle Coach, Carolyn coaches clients North America-wide via phone to inspire them to create the professional and personal life they truly desire. Carolyn is a corporate wellness presenter, yoga teacher and a published author.

Interested? Receive a FREE 30 minute Lifestyle Coaching session on the phone (valued at $99). For more information, visit Sunrisecoaching.ca

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