BREATHING EXERCISES | FUNDAMENTALS
Deep breathing | Relax technique | Focus technique
Stress, Fatigue, Over thinking- they’ve become quite common place and are slowly eating away at the enormous potential of a human life.
Thankfully, we have powerful tools to take back control of our mental-physical state.
“By controlling your breath, you control your mind”
How to | When a child breathes, its belly freely moves up and down, that is the ideal way to breathe. A child never has any tension, tension gets stored up in the belly which can result in the belly’s restricted movement, freeing up the belly’s out and in movement also gets rid of the physical tension in the belly.
To do steps | Let's do a simple breath practice, put your hand on your stomach as shown in the image, and feel it move with your breath. You can sit upright or be in a flat lying position.
Fill up the belly
Fill up the lower rib cage
Fill up the upper rib cage
Note | Image is meant for visualization only, breathe at your own comfortable rate.
In a beginner’s quest to breathe deeply, one might start shallow breathing at the upper chest region, do not do that. Let air flow naturally from the nose to the belly.
Deep breathing benefits | Deep diaphragm breathing has myriads of benefits like making one calm, composed, reducing stress, reducing BP, heart regulation, nervous system regulation among others. It is the bedrock of all breathing techniques.
How deep breathing works | Did you know that it is possible to simulate a panic attack just by replicating the breath pattern one experiences during panic i.e short, shallow breathing? Similarly, deep, full, and harmonious breathing can introduce a state of calm and composure. How does that work? Read on.
Autonomous nervous system-
"Breathing is the only involuntary body process that we can control intently, thus it acts as a gateway to control the other involuntary process of the body, a way of using the conscious to control the subconscious, this has powerful potential"
Our nervous system is broadly classified into two branches, one linked to flight and flight response (emergency and stressful events) and the other linked to the regenerative process (calm and composure). Which component gets triggered is directly linked to our breathing and knowing how to manipulate the nervous system with our breath is the key to breathwork. Breathing techniques have an instant effect on our nervous system as can be seen here.
Lungs-Bloodflow | The main function of lungs is to provide purified oxygen in the bloodstream and the deeper one inhales, the more the amount of blood gets purified.
"The deeper you breathe, the more the amount of blood gets purified"
For reference, the upper, middle, and lower portions of the lungs have an approximate blood flow rate of 100ml/minute, 300ml/minute, and 900ml/minute respectively. Thus breathing deeply utilizes the lower portion of the lungs more efficiently resulting in better blood flow.
The diaphragm is a muscle between the lungs and stomach, it is a vital component in the respiration process. It contracts and flattens when you inhale, this creates a vacuum that pulls air into the lungs. When you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and the air is pushed out of the lungs.
The deeper one breathes, the more the diaphragm gets stimulated and functions more effectively.
Caution When you are feeling overwhelmed or in a state of acute tension it is better if you follow a breathing pattern that feels natural at that moment. Trying to breathe deeply & slowly may deny the body the extra oxygen it needs in those moments which is not recommended.
The main reason for a disturbed mind is repeated thought patterns resulting in stress, anxiety, etc. Two fundamental ways of breath-work can help counter repeated thought patterns, one is gentle while the other is more forceful.
Longer exhales | 4-0-6-0 By making exhales longer than inhales, we replicate the patterns of a relaxed mind. Just like a disturbed mind disturbs our breath pattern, a coherent breath pattern can also lead to a harmonious mind. Longer exhales also have two distinct qualities to it.
Mental- Longer exhales deny the brain the oxygen it needs to sustain repetitive thought patterns, in a way forcing the mind to become more coherent and composed.
Physical- Longer exhales get rid of the old and congested air in our system and increases the carbon dioxide density in our bloodstream which triggers the relaxation component of our nervous system giving a sense of relaxation
Holding breath | 4-4-6-0 This method is a little forceful, it requires breath to be held for 4 seconds after inhalation.
When the breathing process is held, it is impossible for the mind to function and it instantly creates a breakage in thoughts. A few cycles of such a breath pattern creates multiple stopping points for the thoughts, helping one get rid of repetitive thoughts. It can be a little strenuous so it is only advisable for shorter periods of time and should be stopped if one starts feeling uncomfortable.
A somewhat similar technique is considered the gold standard of breathing for everyday life resulting in tranquility and amazing powers but that should only be gradually built up as a practice under careful guidance.
Holding breath | 4-7-8-0 This method is even more intensive and is known as the body-mind tranquilizer. It's working principles are similar to the above 4-4-6-0 breathing rate technique, but the extra hold and exhale time give an even more intense experience.
It is recommended for times of acute stress and fatigue when one is unable to get rid of his/her thoughts.
Box breathing | 4-2-4-2 | 6-3-6-3 This technique charges up your energy and helps direct the energy into a focused area. It is used by NAVY SEALS to focus and can be used to get into what’s popularly called as ‘THE ZONE’ in sports lingo.
It works on the concept of increased potency and alertness.
Potency- The inhaled hold charges up the inhaled oxygen making it more potent.
Alertness- The exhaled hold starves oxygen, thus making a person more alert. How? When tissues and muscles are denied oxygen they immediately wake up from a more relaxed state to an alert state for the sake of their survival, resulting in better performance (by giving a solid nudge to the resting muscles and tissues thereby activating them). Just like we react, our cells and tissues also become alert when their survival is threatened.
Both the holds help the mind stay focused and help get rid of the un-required thought patterns of the mind. When the breath is held one does not or rather cannot think of any tensions, desires etc, for there is no time for such things. One gets fully immersed in the need to start normal breathing again, thus breaking repetitive thought patterns and helping the mind focus. It’s a perfect cocktail of making the oxygen more potent, alerting the body and getting focused.
Research paper refer- The physiological effects of slow breathing in the healthy human
Animation | Relax technique 4-0-6-0