Harmony is something that is quite elusive in these modern times. I needn’t explain this statement to anyone who is juggling family, work, commuting, etc., while trying to fit in financial planning, exercise, a modicum of recreation, and who knows what else, only to have a health crisis, or some other “deal with me now’ situation occur without warning.
Add to this recipe the stimulants prescribed by Dr. Technology, a helpful yet sometimes overzealous and seductive caregiver, and the world does indeed seem to be spinning out of control, or at least at a faster whirl on its axis.
Yoga, learned properly and incorporated into one’s life as a daily practice, transforms. Some who are reading this may know this from experience; others may have dabbled in a class or two and found it helpful at the time, but may never have learned moment to moment use to relieve stress and Anxiety.
An intrinsic part of Yoga, in fact inseparable from its proper practice, is pranayama, the control of the breath. The breath, and how deeply or shallowly, slowly or rapidly we engage in this prerequisite for staying alive, is intimately connected to how we feel. It reflects our emotional, mental, and physical states in every moment. Changing the breath, consciously, can alter these states.
The ancient therapeutic traditions as well as modern medical research speaks about the intimate relationship between our breathing patterns and our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. They have shown how natural healthy respiration not only increases longevity and supports our overall well-being and self-development, but also helps in medical conditions such as Asthma, poor digestion, Insomnia, low energy, High Blood Pressure, Anxiety, Panic Attacks, heart ailments, and many other problems.
How Stress Affects Our Natural Breathing Pattern
With each inhalation, oxygen (pure air) enters into our body and triggers off the transformation of nutrients into fuel. With each exhalation carbon dioxide (toxic air) is eliminated from our body. Presence of oxygen purifies the blood streams and helps invigorate each cell. Sufficient amount of oxygen is required to maintain the vitality of our body organs.
In normal conditions the body follows a natural breathing pattern that is slow and regulated. Under stress when the body shows symptoms such as tightening of muscles, distractions, Anxiety, hyperactivity and angry reactions et al, breathing becomes quick and shallow. One tends to hold one’s breath, frequently. With restricted breathing inflow of oxygen is restricted. Lungs are unable to exhale the stale airs and residual Toxins build up inside the body. Under stress the stiff muscles restrict the Circulation of blood. So, even less oxygen comes in and fewer Toxins are removed. It affects the healthy regeneration of cells.
Medical studies show that the oxygen-starved cells are the major contributing factors in Cancer, immunity deficiency, Sexual Dysfunction, Heart Disease and strokes. Breathing also affects our state of mind and consequently makes our thinking either confused or clear.
When breathing is slow, deep and full, the lungs work more, the diaphragm moves well, the intercostals, back and abdominal muscle work, drawing in extra oxygen to the blood stream. Increased oxygenation purifies blood and stimulates healthy functioning of cells, glands and muscles.
Hence, a regulated and mindful breathing pattern has been held vital to maintaining the highest level of physical health by Yoga. Another positive result of conscious breathing is its calming effect on the emotions, reducing fear and Anxiety in the nervous system. Regulated and mindful breathing, dynamic movement of the head, shoulders and arms during the practice of breathing and Meditation promote Concentration and relaxation.
Easy, Practical and Effective Breathing Exercises
Following are some practical, easy to perform exercises that capitalize on this quite dramatic relationship between breath and well being.
Let me begin these instructions by saying this: Perhaps the most difficult aspect of using breathing techniques or any other stress-reduction modalities is the forming of new, positive habit patterns. It is easy to think, “I can’t stop what I’m doing now. There isn’t time.” Truth is, once you’ve reached the point where stress has begun to make itself known in your neck, your lower back, your eyes, or wherever else that demon tends to possess you, you really have no choice if you want to be productive and enjoy what you are doing. Know that you have become oxygen depleted, and that the very cells of your body are crying out for your loving attention. Beginning to develop awareness of this is the first step in establishing the new pattern: the wonderful habit of self-care.
If you are at home, simply stop what you are doing, and find a spot where the distractions are minimal. Turn off the ringer on the phone, and the volume down on that answering machine. If you are driving, pull over for five minutes. That’s really all it takes. And if you are at work, depending on the environment in your workplace, either just pull your chair back from your desk, or if this is unacceptable, try to find a spot where you can have quiet for that five minute span. Letting your co-workers know what you are doing can be a good idea. I’m not being a Pollyanna, in that I know that there are some situations where this scenario will be perceived as impossible. However, if tending to your well being is a priority, I do believe that in almost all cases a way can be found.
Cleansing Breath: Get comfortable in a chair or in your car seat. Loosen tight clothing or belts. Relax. Breathe normally. Now exhale forcefully and then begin to inhale deeply. When the lungs are really full, exhale through your nose. This is done rather quickly. Assist this exhalation by contracting your stomach muscles. Let the stomach relax completely as the air begins to come back in through your nose. Fill lungs again, exhale through nose quickly once again with the aid of those stomach muscles. (If the exhalation is really complete, you will find that the act of breathing in again is quite sudden and automatic, so that a rhythm is established) Do this inhale-exhale pattern four to six times. Depending on time constraints, you can repeat this cycle once more.
One Nostril Breathing: Close one nostril with a finger. Breathe in slowly through the other nostril, and exhale through this same nostril. Continue breathing thus through one nostril for five breaths. Then switch sides. Having completed this pattern on both sides, you may repeat the pattern if time allows, adding one repetition per day. Two repetitions will still be quite effective, however.
Alternate Nostril Breathing: Using your right hand, close the right nostril with your thumb, and breathe in through the left. Having inhaled thus, now close the left nostril with the pinky and ring finger of the same hand, and breath out through the right nostril. Immediately breathe in again through that same (right) nostril, and exhale through the left. This pattern: in left, out right, in right, out left, is one unit. Repeating this unit four times makes one round. One is enough to begin with. Increase by one round daily, again depending on time constraints.
Complete Yoga Breath: Sitting straight, standing, or lying flat when possible, begin by expanding the abdomen and breathing into the lower lungs. Continue filling the middle lungs, expanding your lower ribs, then the middle ribs, then lifting the upper ribs, expand the upper chest. Finally, to get that air into the lungs highest areas, contract the abdomen just a bit. Hold your breath for just five seconds, no more. Finally, exhale through your nose, slowly, again contracting your stomach muscles. Now, relax all over. Breathe normally for a breath or two, and repeat the complete breath. Twice is good; daily, gradual increases are beneficial.
It may seem like a lot at first glance, but once learned there is nothing to it. You can accomplish the entire series in five minutes, with minimal repetitions. It will still be effective, and you will return to the task at hand refreshed and relaxed.
During more leisurely times you may indulge in longer sessions, but do it gradually: With gentleness, with attention, and with the love inherent in this wonderful form of self-care.
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