- 'SMILE, BREATHE AND GO SLOWLY' : THE BREATH -
We can go years without human contact, without light, without entertainment, or mental or emotional stimulation... We can go weeks without ingesting any food... We can live a few days without water...
A few minutes without breathing and life stops. That's how important the breath is. The needs above, without breathing, do not exist.
And how we breathe is nearly as important as whether we breathe: the manner in which we breathe is linked to the well being of every body system.
Most people, for lack of proper education and not being aware, breathe too quick and too shallow (often through the mouth) using their chest muscles.
Our mission: re-educate ourselves to breathe slowly and deeply through the nose using the diaphragm.
Re-read the sentence above. The 4 things to always keep in mind, at all times, when we make a mental scan of our breathing/inner state, are: is it slow? is it deep? Am I using my nose ? Am I using my diaphragm?
And if you think you don't have time to observe your breath, think about driving a car. Initially, your thoughts get in the way of your driving all the time when you learn. It is inevitable. Later, you can pay attention to driving while conducting a conversation with yourself or somebody else on unrelated matters. Think of breathing as driving a car. If you don't pay attention, you will crash and die, yet you can still talk and enjoy yourself at the same time.
The simple mechanics of proper breathing
When breathing in, we let the lower belly expand and relax it completely to start with. Later, when Uddiyana Bandha is understood a little better, we can breathe with the diaphragm keeping the abdominal region contained with an elastic pressing back of the navel towards the spine. When breathing out, we let the belly contract, in other words as the air comes out of the lungs, the abdominal cavity deflates gradually.
For most of us, we do breathing in reverse: puffing out the chest and sucking the belly in on the in-breath, and collapsing the chest and swelling the abdomen on the out-breath. This works against the natural movement of the diaphragm, and reduces the efficiency of our lungs.
With diaphragmatic breathing, the amount of air entering the lungs increases significantly, which in turn, allows more oxygen to enter the bloodstream. Shallow chest breathing allows approximately 350 ml of air to enter the lungs, compared to the 4500 ml that can enter diaphragmatically (over 10X more).
Throughout the day, we do random checks on our diaphragm. This procedure is essential, because as a yogi, our life rests on the breath.
4 stages of breathing
Deep, slow consistent breath drawn from the core using the diaphragm, keeping the spine straight and energized. In Yoga terms, Puraka.
Pause after lungs are full, locking the air in for an instant, Kumbhaka.
Steady and slow exhalation, keeping the muscles relaxed and the flow constant. In Yoga terms, Rechaka.
Begins when the lungs are empty: this is a pause with no movement of air in or out of the lungs. In Yoga terms, Bahya Kumbhaka.
More important than the form, i.e the way the posture looks, is the reason we need to put the accent on this specific area. To start paying attention to the breath, it is obvious that dedicating special time just for that is a good practice. Though possible, it is better to gain some practice before you do deep breathing while operating... heavy machinery for example.
It is possible to pay attention to the breath in any comfortable posture. Two are preferred because they are both traditional and simple: savasana or a variation on savasana (support under the knees, eye bag...), or simple cross legged or more advanced, with support under the buttocks.
why do this ?
The rhythm of our breath directly influences the rhythm of our thoughts and vice versa. When our thoughts slow down, incoming signals slow down as well, allowing us to accomplish more using less energy. Moreover, the rhythm of our breath, a function directly under our control, is our only handle on the rhythm of our heart beats.
Breathing is a unique physiological function as it is both voluntary and automatic. By modifying one’s breathing, taking slower, deeper breaths one has the ability to help control the nervous system. Ultimately, breathing slowly can induce a state of relaxation, focus, and calmness.
When we breathe only using the chest, our breathing becomes rapid and shallow. This kind of chest breathing doesn’t fully expand the lungs and leaves static air in parts of the lungs. Expanding only parts of the lungs increases the likelihood of poor blood circulation, which impairs the functioning of the organs and can lead to infection or other health problems.
Deep breathing stimulates and allows your lymph system to work better and thus, avoid circulatory problems. Pumped from the heart, blood circulates oxygen to the arteries and capillaries. Cells in our bodies take oxygen for their health and excrete toxins. Cells depend on the lymphatic as the only way to expel toxins.
How you breathe directly affects your cardiovascular system. Daily practice of deep, diaphragmatic breathing on a daily basis has been shown to have a positive effect on essential hypertension (high blood pressure of unknown cause). Other problems such as headaches and migraines, which can be caused by a lack of oxygen, will also benefit from deep breathing. Although breathing from your diaphragm is easy to do, the habit of doing it must be consciously cultivated before it can become automatic.
Because deep breathing has an immediate relaxing effect on your nervous system, many people use it effectively to fall asleep faster. If your body is tense, or you have thoughts racing through your head, the physiological effects of doing deep breathing may have a great impact on your sleep quality.It's recommended that you do it before bed for at least ten minutes. However, if you experience lots of stress or anxiety throughout the day, you may want to do several short sessions as well.