I have practiced different breathing techniques for many years now and observed the many benefits of bringing consciousness and practice to breathing cycles. I definitely expanded my lung capacity big time and when I breathe shallow or have periods of holding my breath when stressed or panicked I am now aware enough to bring myself back to deep, slow, conscious breaths. There is nothing like a big sigh of breath out and a deep inhale.
Pranyam – Breathing is a key practice and in this book he mentions that breathing in yoga came long before the asanas – movement where developed. I practiced mainly yogic breathing techniques over the past 13 years, but I also loved attending workshops with Helle Thompson, who holds space for Transformational Breath sessions privately or for groups in Havelock North. There are many different breathing techniques from so many teachers.
I have just finished reading the book Breath by James Nestor (link below to Amazon), which outlines and explains important research on breath. Many people are unaware how bad mouth breathing is for example and how many people have health problems because of mouth breathing. He even goes through an experiment with another breath expert, where they plug up their noses for several weeks and monitor all their vital functions and get their health monitored and checked before and after thoroughly. James Nestor visits lots of specialists and pulmonologists around the world and at the end of the audio book there are a few breathing exercises explained that we can implement into our daily rituals.
Here are a few breathing exercises you can practice and implement in your daily rituals. For all those techniques its best to sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair, spine straight, shoulders and face relaxed. Remember to never force anything and not overdo, especially if you are just starting out with these breathing techniques. Make sure you do the breathing exercises in a comfortable, safe environment, where you can be fully present.
Many of the breathing techniques have similar effects – lowering heart rate, blood pressure, stress, expanding lung capacity, calming the mind.
Alternate Nostril Breath:
Put the 2 peace fingers (pointy and middle finger) of the right hand on the 3rd eye chakra between the eyebrows. Use your thumb to close right nostril and the ring finger to close the left nostril. The little finger is just relaxed. Close right nostril with thumb, inhale through left nostril. Close left nostril with ring finger, open right nostril, exhale through the right nostril. Inhale through the right nostril. Close right nostril with thumb, open left nostril, exhale through the left. Inhale through left, close left, open right, exhale. Carry on for as long as it feels comfortable and right. 10 – 15 cycles to start with.
This breath is called box breathing in the above book, but is also a yogic technique, called Kumbhaka breath. The inhale, exhale and hold of breath is all done to the count of 4. Inhale for 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, hold for 4. You can slowly increase your count if it feels comfortable.
For more relaxation / before sleep change the count of the breath to Inhale 4, Hold 4, Exhale 6, Hold 2.
Another variation of this was made famous by Dr. Andrew Weil, called 4/7/8 breathing. Inhale through Nose for 4, Hold for 7 and Exhale though mouth with an audible sigh for 8
Repeat Cycles for as long as feels comfortable and right
I personally find this super relaxing combined with legs up the wall pose (Viparita Karani) before sleep, but can also be done sitting. Put one hand on belly, one hand on chest. Breathe into belly and feel belly expand. On exhalation feel belly lower. Do a few rounds like this then try to fill the belly with breath first and then the chest next, feeling both rise as you breathe in and as you breathe out you first try and empty the chest – feel it lower and then last the belly. Carry on for a few cycles.
Conscious breath restriction methods from the book Breath:
Inhale deeply through the nose, then pinch nose closed with fingers and hold breath for as long as feels comfortable. Use a stopwatch to measure progress over the weeks. You should not be gasping for breath on inhale. Slow and steady inhale. Something to aim for is 45 seconds – 1 minute breath holding. Start slowly and take small steps.
Something more rhythmic is inhaling for 3, exhale for 6 and imagine anchor sinking really deeply as you exhale.