We can breathe tirelessly all through our lives – we may get tired of walking or exercising, but we’ll never get tired of breathing. The fascinating thing about breathing is that it is a process that can happen both automatically and consciously. We continue to breathe when we are busy, watching a movie, driving a car, etc. without actually being aware of it. And we can join a yoga class or sit in meditation where we focus on our breath purposefully. Namita Piparaiya, Yoga and Ayurveda Lifestyle Specialist, and Founder of Yoganama, says, “As soon as you pay attention to your breath, a different part of the brain becomes active than when we breathe unconsciously. And that is the key to stress management!”
Highlighting the benefits of mindful breathing, Piparaiya says, “Breathing mindfully with your complete attention and awareness has many benefits because it relaxes the nervous system. It improves our mood and equips us to deal with uncomfortable emotions like anxiety, anger, or depression. It clears our minds and helps us focus better, which can come in very handy in high-stress situations like before an exam, presentation, or interview. It also improves our sleep quality, reduces pain, promotes healing, and instills an overall sense of well-being.”
Image: Namita Piparaiya
Altogether, mindful breathing is an essential tool that we must use to improve our quality of life. No one is immune to stress, life events throw us off balance frequently, and we all have to go through a personal crisis at some point of time, which has tragically become more frequent given the COVID-19 pandemic.
Piparaiya adds that mindful breathing is a simple, accessible, and highly effective practice that does not need expertise, just your attention; your body does the rest. She shares two tips to keep in mind while working with your breath.
It’s Not A Competition
Piparaiya advises, “Do not force your breath or be aggressive with it. When people start breathing exercises, they become very forceful as they try their version of a ‘deep breath’. There’s also a tendency to hold the breath for long periods – more than is comfortable or required. This only results in a very ineffective practice as you’ll become breathless within a few minutes.”
Instead, your first step should be gentle deep breathing with full awareness. Piparaiya adds, “Your role is that of an observer, and it is the power of observation that naturally slows down the breath over time. So, begin the practice without expectations and start by just observing the natural rhythm of your breath. Gradually slow down to the point of deep relaxation and calmness.”
Start With Diaphragmatic Breathing
Image: Namita Piparaiya
Also called deep belly breathing, this is a great technique that everyone from a beginner to an experienced yogi must practice regularly. You can do this exercise while sitting up or lying down with knees bent or while lying down on an incline propped up with a few pillows. Piparaiya says, “The incline position works very well for those who are hospitalised or recovering from COVID-19. You can place your hands above the abdomen and experience the rise of the belly when you inhale and its return to neutral as you exhale. You have your hands to provide feedback about the rise and fall of the abdomen, and you have your mental visualisation to understand the expansion and relaxation of the lungs.”
After a few normal breaths, gradually start exploring, and lengthening your exhalation. Try to increase your exhalation to the point of comfort, not to the point of breathlessness. Eventually, with consistent practice, you can work towards making your exhalation double the length of your inhalation. Piparaiya says, “This is beneficial to correct the breathing pattern, relax the nervous system, and improve overall breathing capacity. You can do this anytime during the day, on an empty stomach. Try to start your day with ten such breaths and then repeat before lunch and before sleeping.”
Image: Namita Piparaiya
Once you’ve got your foundation right, you can always add more breathing exercises to your routine. These include box breathing, alternate nostril breathing, equal breathing, 3-part breathing, etc. These can help you develop stronger breath awareness and you’ll also find a lot of difference in your meditation practice. Breath is a wonderful object of meditation because it is repetitive and consistent. So, go ahead and feel free to explore more techniques; there’s no right or wrong. Let your intuition be your guide and focus on practices that you inherently like and that help you feel calm.
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