Breath is Life. It is said we can live for three minutes without air, three days without water or three weeks without food; yet we stupidly seem to pay little or no attention to mastering the art of breathing well! Most people have forgotten how to breathe properly, using only the top part of the lungs –breathing shallowly through the mouth, lifting the shoulders, no awareness of using the diaphragm and contracting the abdomen in when inhaling; meaning only a small amount of oxygen is taken in resulting in lack of vitality and anxiety.
The Yogis believe that if we can control the state of our breath then we can control our state of mind. Think of when something traumatic happens and your breath is fast and erratic and so is your mind versus a relaxed day where the breath is calm and collected, echoing the mind. Proper breathing means inhaling and exhaling fully and rhythmically using the whole of the lungs to increase our intake of oxygen.
The benefits of deep diaphragmatic breathing include:
– not needing to breathe as often
– being more oxygenated and energised
– the ability to process your thoughts more clearly and calmly
– being less tired and not needing to sleep as long
– alkalising (poor health thrives in acidic conditions)
– massaging the internal organs
– enhanced lymphatic flow (the diaphragm acts as a pump moving lymph through the body)
Retraining the breath:
The practice of mindful breathing demands retraining the whole breathing process, not an easy task considering most of us have been breathing poorly since (almost) the day we were born! Interestingly, watch little children breathe – they breathe well with their little abdomens rising and falling. Somewhere along the way we lost the way, myself once included!
Using the whole of the lungs (a full ‘Yogic Breath’) means:
breathing through the nose with the mouth closed (the air is warmed and filtered before entering the lungs in winter and cooled in summer)
drawing the diaphragm (the band of muscle sitting at the bottom of the ribcage) down to the toes so the air floods into the bottom part of the lungs
the abdomen rises (deep breathing)
the ribcage expands (middle breathing)
then the last sips of air up to the collar bones and retain (shallow breathing)
upon exhalation: the abdomen contracts in and the diaphragm moves up.
“Exhale” – Buddha
The exhalation holds the key – the larger the amount of stale air that you are able to exhale, the more fresh air you are able to inhale.
Try to begin with at least one period a day of mindful breathing. When preparing to sail off to sleep is a good time to practise. Then increase to two times a day and if you really wish to be a star student, three to four times.
So as winter approaches and we begin to hibernate indoors, do not forget to get out and about during the day and invite oxygen rich fresh air into your lungs! This might just be your most life-changing winter yet!