Learning to do deep breathing exercises is an important component to managing stress and many types of chronic illnesses. If you watch and infant breathe, you will see that they naturally breathe correctly and deeply. As we age and must deal with the stresses of everyday life, our breathing tends to become faster and more shallow. Learning to breathe deeply again can go a long way in managing your health.
It may seem that deep breathing exercises and the benefits it can have on our health is a recently new idea. However, deep breathing exercises (called "pranayama" in yoga) are commonly taught in yoga classes. The practice of yoga can be traced back to 5,000 years ago in India. At this time yoga and its principals were reserved for the religious elite. Eventually, yoga became accessible to all and made its way to the United States. Scientists began to research the effects of deep breathing and meditation by studying yogis while they were practicing the technique. As the research continued the benefits of deep breathing became more accepted. Today many health care professionals such as psychologists, nurses, physical therapists and physicians not only believe in its benefits, but promote it as well.
While the practice of deep breathing can be learned with or without practicing yoga, all forms of yoga teach it. In addition, many popular meditation techniques begin by teaching the student to breathe deeply and consciously. Many yogis and meditation teachers believe that focusing the attention on the breath is the key to the mind-body connection. The belief is that if you place all of your attention on your breathing, you then connect the mind with how the body is feeling and responding to internal and external events. This belief was justified during early studies of yogis during meditation. Scientists would monitor the yogis while they were taking deep breaths and meditating. It was found that the yogis could at will reduce their blood pressure, heart rate, rate of respiration, activity of the nervous system and even control blood flow to areas of the body. For more information, click on the link for Dr. Herbert Benson below.
The benefits of practicing deep breathing exercises are many. Deep breathing calms the mind and the nervous system. It helps to strengthen our lungs and conditions the muscles of the respiratory system making it more efficient at processing and delivering oxygen to our entire body. Since deep breathing can make the lungs stronger it is a very beneficial technique to help treat asthma and other respiratory conditions. It is helpful for those with Parkinson's disease since this condition often causes a decrease in lung capacity. Just focusing on the breath alone is a very effective form of meditation which can help you to manage stress and managing stress is an important component to managing most chronic illnesses. Practicing deep breathing at night can also help to manage insomnia.
The easiest way to practice deep breathing is to lie down. Standing is the next easiest, and sitting is the hardest. This is because to do deep breathing correctly you need to move your abdominal area, and when sitting there is too much weight on the stomach. Also many of us collapse and round the back while sitting. Once you become familiar with this technique lying down, then try to incorporate it into your daily activities.
Find a comfortable position lying on your back. As you inhale deeply, allow the abdomen to rise, then the chest. As you exhale slowly and deeply, allow the abdomen to relax. To see if the abdomen is really moving, place a small pillow on your stomach and make sure it rises and falls with the breath. Try to do at least 15 minutes of deep breathing every day.
Breathing deeply and correctly may feel backwards at first. Many times when we inhale we pull the stomach muscles in. Unfortunately, this constricts the muscles and inhibits our breathing. As you inhale, you want the stomach to expand outwards. This allows the diaphragm muscle to drop, which in turn allows the lungs to fully expand and take in the inhaled air. As you exhale, the stomach should relax or move inwards. This pushes the diaphragm muscle upwards which compresses the lungs and allows the air to be expelled out. It also feels awkward since many of us breathe very shallowly by just moving the chest, which does not allow the diaphragm muscle to move fully.