Sleep. Caffine. Sugar. Alcohol. Exercise. What do you use to cope with those sluggish moments for a quick pick-me-up? Somehow, we are rarely taught the simplest tool for instant energy. Something that has been proven for thousands of years to work the most naturally and effect…breath!
Most people hardly think twice about how they inhale and exhale. It happens naturally and our mental energy would be better focused on other things, right? Not quite. Breathing can be a passive activity, but by focusing on the breath we can channel and create even more energy and fire for whatever our life demands. Before we dig deeper, give it a try:
Find a heavy object around you (a big rock, 12-pack of drinks, your purse, whatever) and experiment with picking up the object in one hand.
First Lift it without thinking of your breath.
Next, lift it while holding your breath.
And lastly, exhale first and then on a big inhale, lift your object.
Did you notice any difference? The third option should have been the easiest. Why? HOW?!
Um…what not to do.
This part is rarely taught. When your spine is straight, shoulders relaxed, and heart forward, you can inhale into your belly. From here, your body creates and utilizes the proper amount of space needed to absorb the oxygen and send it to cells all over the body.
On the other hand, when our bodies are slouched over, or we are only breathing into the shoulders and chest, the oxygen flow throughout the body is restricted, and it becomes less accessible to your cells. Here’s the anatomy behind it: The respiratory system is categorized in two groups: Primary (essential for breathing) and secondary.
- Primary Respiratory Muscles: the lower part of our torso—the diaphragm, abdominals, and intercostals (the muscles between the ribs). They are larger and perform most of our breathing work. *We should use these more.
- Secondary Respiratory Muscles: the upper region of our torso—the pectorals, trapezius, and throat muscles. These smaller muscles aid and allow for adaptability in breathing. *We use these too much.
English: Animation of a diaphragm exhaling and inhaling (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Inhaling and exhaling our breath into our lower torso, we are not only allowing ourselves to breathe deeper, but we are making ourselves more grounded and stabilized, by lowering our center of gravity. Benefits of long deep breathing include releasing toxins, invigorating the mind and body, relieving pain, strengthening muscles, strengthening the immune system, improving digestion, and improving the nervous system, just to name a few!
So that all sounds pretty good, and essential, right? It’s very doable, simply requiring some mindfulness.
- Asses your breathing. Lying down on your back, place a hand underneath your navel. Take some deep breaths, and notice what’s happening. Is your belly expanding? Is your ribcage expanding? These are good things. Are your shoulders lifting towards your ears? Is your stomach caving inward and upward? Just be aware of what you’re prone to doing, and focus on expanding and relaxing. Long deep breathing is always a work in progress.
- Work on your posture. When sitting or standing, try to keep a relaxed, lifted posture. This means straightening the spine, rolling your shoulder blades down your back, lifting your chest, and tucking in your tailbone. Now, that is a lot to think about, but a good thing to practice. Just imagine and feel the expansion of your breathing capacity as you try it. It only gets easier over time!
- Wear non-constrictive clothing. Tight or immovable waistbands, tight bra straps, neckties, and high heels can all alter your ability to breathe deeply and fully. Stick with loosely fitted and stretchable clothing as much as possible.
- Try breathing through your nose. Long deep breathing allows for lots of oxygen to circulate through the body, which is a beautiful thing. However, much of the air we breathe today is full of toxins and pollution. Fortunately, our nasal passages have tiny hairs that act as filters for our breath. Additionally, nasal breathing allows for a slower and more controlled inhalation, allowing for a deeper breath.
- Listen to your body. Altering your breath can create subtle changes in your bodily functions, mood, and energy that make a huge difference in the long run. Slow down, be aware, and treat your body to the oxygen it deserves.
Doing these things will bring you increased energy over time, but in a pinch we can also look to breath exercises instead of reaching for a cup of coffee or taking a nap. My favorite instant re-charge is called stretch pose. Lay down on your back. Place your hands under your lower back to align your spine.
Lift your head and heels six inches off the ground. Begin a rapid inhale and exhale, either through the nose, or through the mouth with your tongue out (panting like a dog). Watch your belly expand and contract with the breath. It’s challenging at first, but becomes more comfortable with practice.
Do this for 30 seconds or more, and then relax and feel the energy you’ve unleashed into your body and mind!
These are just some basics on breathing, but there are many more related elements to it. If you notice that you could improve from changing your breathing (most of us can), I’d encourage you to do some more research for yourself, or talk to a doctor, yoga teacher, or wellness coach. Let’s use our body’s natural tool mindfully to increase energy and improve wellness. Breathe!
Asha is a certified yoga teacher (RYT 200) with an emphasis on Kundalini Yoga. In yoga, conscious breathing brings prana, or life force and energy, into the body. Asha likes to deal with another main source of prana…FOOD! She works as a vegetarian chef at a yoga bed & breakfast and is working on a digital cookbook for her tasty recipes and knowledge on eating for wellness. Stay tuned for a preview!
Learn more about…
Breathing: The Breathing Book: Good health and vitality through essential breath work by Donna Farhi (It’s a fantastic book!)
Stretch Pose: Kundalini Yoga Stretch Pose with Anne Novak (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9J7AcNLdV0)
Long deep breathing: Take a Deep Breath (http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mental_Health_Letter/2009/May/Take-a-deep-breath)