Feeling hot? You're not alone. In fact, most of the nation has been held in the grip of a scorching summer heatwave for weeks. But yoga and meditation teacher Travis Eliot, cofounder of Inner Dimension TV, wants you to take a deep breath—a few deep breaths, actually. Not only can doing a few breathing exercises help calm you down mentally, but it can also help naturally decrease your body temperature so you feel cooler too.
Eliot, who was first introduced to meditation at the age of 9, is the expert you want on your side when it comes to feel-good breathing exercises. After facing several near-death experiences—including almost drowning and surviving the Thailand tsunami in 2004—Eliot came back to yoga and meditation, leaning on these two practices—both of which are deeply connected to breathwork—to center himself once again.
But can his work and techniques actually change your body's temperature? According to science, it just might.
"It is possible for core body temperature to be controlled by the brain," scientists from the National University of Singapore shared in a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, which focused on breathing techniques to warm the body. "[We] found that core body temperature increases can be achieved using certain meditation techniques, which could help in boosting immunity to fight infectious diseases or immunodeficiency."
Though not much scientific evidence is available on cooling the body (and most of it is anecdotal), yogis have long believed there are significant cooling benefits of certain types of breathwork. There is even a word for it in Sanskrit: Sitali, which means "cooling."
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At the very least, breathing techniques are a proven way to calm the mind and nervous system, making a person feel more tranquil, which can slow the heart rate and activate the rest-and-digest system (or parasympathetic nervous system), thus making you feel better and helping to get your mind off the anxiety and discomfort from the heat.
"Different emotions are associated with different forms of breathing, and so changing how we breathe can change how we feel," the Harvard Business Review points out about a study published in Cognition and Emotion. "Changing the rhythm of your breath can signal relaxation, slowing your heart rate and stimulating the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain stem to the abdomen, and is part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body's 'rest and digest' activities."
This, the publication explained, is in contrast to the sympathetic nervous system, which regulates the "fight-or-flight" response associated with stress and anxiety. So, by using a few easy breathwork techniques, people can trigger their parasympathetic nervous system, which "helps you start to calm down. You feel better. And your ability to think rationally returns."
Want to give breathwork a try next time you're feeling a little too warm? Here are three techniques, along with a little instruction manual for each from Eliot, that he says could help cool you down.
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Alternate Nostril Cooling Breaths
How to do it: In a seated comfortable position, seal your right nostril shut with your right thumb. Breathe in through your left nostril for four counts. At the top of the inhale, take your thumb off the right nostril and close the left nostril with your right ring finger—breathe out of the right nostril for four counts. Repeat for 5 to 10 cycles.
Why it works: In yoga, the left channel is the yin, or cool energy, and the right channel is yang or warm energy. In this breath pattern, you are increasing cool energy and decreasing heat. In Ayurvedic Medicine, this practice is used as a way to cool Pitta or imbalanced heat in the body.
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Unequal Ratio Breaths
How to do it: This breathing exercise can be performed in a comfortable seated or reclining position. Breathe in through the nose for four counts. Then breathe out the nose for eight counts. Repeat for 5 to 10 cycles.
Why it works: Inhaling activates the sympathetic (alert and stressed) branch of the autonomic nervous system and exhaling helps activate the parasympathetic (resting) branch. You can imagine inhales being like the accelerator and the exhales being like the brakes of a car. When the exhales are longer than the inhales, it allows the engine more time to rest. This allows the body to keep from overheating and, therefore to cool off.
The Perfect Breath
How to do it: This breathing exercise can be performed in a comfortable seated or reclining position. Breathe in through the nose for about 5.5 seconds, then exhale out the nose for 5.5 seconds. This equates to 5.5 breaths per minute for a total movement of 5.5 liters of air. Practice for a total of 5.5 minutes.
Why it works: It's estimated that the average person breathes about 16 to 17 breaths per minute which creates a greater energy demand on bodily systems, including blood pressure (i.e. blood pressure is negatively impacted). By slowing the breath down, the bodily systems operate with greater efficiency, therefore, decreasing inflammation and stress. Also, by breathing in and out through the nose, we retain more moisture in the body. Mouth breathing causes the body to lose 40 percent more water leaving you feeling dried out, another common symptom of overheating.
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