Did you know that you take an average of 2000 breaths everyday. And if you’re like most people, most of the time you do so without thinking.
Yet when we take breathing so much for granted it’s easy to develop bad habits.
And bad breathing habits can contribute towards depression, insomnia, panic attacks, lack of energy, mental sluggishness, lethargy, irritability, stress, tiredness, lack of desire and a possible increase in many ailments. The list goes on.
This is no doubt why author and teacher Professor Andrew Weill, M.D. says
“If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip it would be to learn how to breathe correctly. There is no single, more powerful or more simple daily practice to further your health and well-being.”
Breathing “properly” helps to control pain, improve mental capacities, increase vitality and promote a general sense of well being.
And Dr. Weil believes that breathing correctly can also help stress related health problems ranging from panic attacks to digestive disorders.
Which is why I want to share with you 3 simple breathing exercises which, when practised regularly, can make a profound difference to the quality of your life. And can even help if you only use them on the odd occasion, too.
I’ve taught them in coaching and counselling sessions and with groups large and small for many years, yet I am still awed by their in-the-moment benefits, as well as their longer term beneficial effects if practised regularly.
Don’t be put off by their apparent simplicity. Simply try them and judge their effects for yourself.
It’s unlikely you’ll feel any side effects, but obviously I don’t know you or your situation so do take responsibility for your own well being and simply stop if you feel any discomfort or dizziness. As I’ve said before I’m not a health professional and I neither diagnose nor treat, so if unsure, like everything else, check with your doctor, especially if you feel you may be stressed or unwell.
Initially, take about a minute or so for each one. When you can easily and rhythmically do them, and can do so without effort, increase the time and the count a little. Simply experiment with what feels good and allows you to remain comfortable.
What I’ve found often happens is on the first breath cycle it’s as if you’re preparing yourself for change; on the second, you’ll likely experience yourself getting quieter within; on the third you may even notice your surroundings somehow becoming ‘quieter’ as your inner state quietens and your perception alters.
Read through each exercise completely first to get the gist, and at the start of each one take a moment to become aware of your surroundings before focussing on your breathing for a few moments.
Breathe in gently through the nose for a slow & steady count of about four seconds. Close your eyes if it helps, though this isn’t necessary.
Gently hold your breath for a few moments.
Breathe out gently through the mouth for a count of about five seconds (or slightly longer than the inhalation).
Again, hold your breath for a few moments.
Repeat the whole cycle three times or for as long as it remains pleasant and comfortable.
Breathe in through the nose as you count slowly to four.
Now, slowly exhale through the nose as you count to four again.
Repeat the cycle for as long as you wish.
Exercise 3: Alternate Nostril Breathing (Yes I know; it’s a strange name isn’t it? But get past that, give it a go and judge the results for yourself.
This exercise may appear slightly more complicated than the first two but don’t allow that to put you off. It really is easy to get into the routine of it once you’ve practised, and the potential benefits are well worth the effort.
It’s a great one to use when you feel as if you’re mind is racing and there are lots of thoughts simply whizzing around your head.
It’s also really effective at slowing down internal chatter and allowing you to become quiet within. As such, it is good for rest and relaxation (try it if you’re having difficulty getting off to sleep) as well as for soothing the emotions and calming an agitated mind, helping you to be in a better position to focus and make decisions.
Some people say it also helps balance the workings of the right and left sides of the brain and helps with brain function, thus a few minutes of alternate nostril breathing just before an exam or interview may help you to achieve better results.
Place your right thumb next to your right nostril and your index finger next to your left nostril.
Close off the right nostril with the right thumb and breathe in deeply through the left nostril.
Pause then close the left nostril with your finger, release the thumb off the right nostril and exhale through the right nostril.
Inhale through the right nostril.
Pause then close off the right nostril again with the right thumb and breathe out through left nostril.
Repeat. And as always, stop if you feel uncomfortable.
That’s it! Too simple? Remember, don’t judge by what you have to do but by the results you get. And have fun!