Breathing is one of the few functions of your body that you do automatically — but it can also be done mindfully. When you remember to breathe deeply, you can actually calm your body and mind. How we breath for health is a learned skill.
2 simple mindful breathing exercises.
The power of the breath to change the human body, emotions, chemicals, neurotransmitters, hormones and more is not a new concept. Controlled breathing practices have been part of most cultures over recorded history and medical science is rapidly re discovering and confirming the benefits. These health enhancing benefits range from improved concentration to managing stress via regulation of the autonomic nervous system. Research has shown the benefits of breath control are diverse and include managing pain, emotional states, energy, sleep and even weight control. Spending time purposely moderating your breath is another simple and cost /benefit strategy to enhance health on many levels.
Breathing and the autonomic nervous system
Practicing regular, mindful breathing is the fasted way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system which calms the brain. This is very useful for all stress-related health problems ranging from anxiety attacks, increased pain to digestive disorders. A sign of this activation is that saliva production in the mouth increases. This is your guide to know that you are achieving tangible benefits.
Pranayama is the art of breathing as taught in Yoga and all ancient healing cultures have used breath control. Breath control techniques are central to the sport of free diving. There are now many practitioners, websites and Apps all devoted to expanding the art of breath control.
When used to enhance health, focusing on how you breath with full and undivided attention is a mindful meditation practice that literally changes the brain(neuroplasticity). Breath counting is a useful tool for rapidly achieving a relaxed and focused mind which sets the tone when commencing a meditation practice session.
Here are 2 simple exercises to use at the beginning of a meditation session or at any time you wish to calm the nervous system. This and other breathing techniques are part of the More Than Meditation course.
A simple exercise: Breath counting- Just One breathing
To start, sit in a comfortable position with the spine straight and head inclined slightly forward. Gently close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Then let the breath come naturally without trying to influence it. Ideally it will be quiet and slow, but depth and rhythm may vary.
To begin the exercise,
- Count “just ” to yourself as you inhale.
- Then as you exhale, count “one”. Make the exhale a slow breath aiming over time for the length of the out-breath to be twice as long as the in-breath.
- Next, inhale and say to yourself ” just”.
- Now exhale again and count “2” .
- Inhale “just”…… exhale “3”……and so on up to “10.”
I suggest 3 rounds counting to 5 each time. You can do this as part of the beginning phase of a meditation practice or at any time during the day. This and other breathing techniques are part of the More Than Meditation course.
A simple exercise: Box Breathing
- Inhale for a count of 3.
- Retain and hold the breath for a count of 3.
- Exhale completely or a count of 3.
- Retain and hold the breath for a count of 3
- Repeat the cycle
Experiment with a count that works for you. Maybe a count of 4 works best for you. The aim is not to strain.
Start with 1 minute and experiment when to do this during the day. Work up to 5-10 minutes a day. There is an App for this if you want to develop this practice box breathing further. The App has useful audio cues and timers.