Breathing is that thing you do all day, everyday, and without it, you would cease to live. In fact, a healthy person goes through 12-20 breathing cycles every single minute. And that air you breathe goes through quite a process with each single breath -- something we often don’t give a second thought to thanks to the all-important autonomic nervous system (ANS).
With each breath, whether done through the nose or mouth, air is filtered first through the celia (tiny hairs) inside the nose or the mucus in your mouth in an effort to block dirt, toxins or even viruses from entering the lungs. That filtered oxygen is then moved to your blood stream so it can oxygenate the blood to help your heart pump that life sustaining blood to your cells, tissues and organs.
What’s even better is that while breathing is controlled by an integral part of the nervous system, breathing returns the favor by calming your nerves when your body is feeling stressed. It is really quite remarkable what a simple breath and even series of breaths can do.
And while breathing is something we don’t have to think about doing, there are ways to improve our body’s ability to breathe better and more efficiently. Here are three breathing exercises we think you should try:
1. Bellows Breath
Also known as Bhastrika, the Bellows Breath is a traditional Yoga breathing technique used to energize the body and clarify the mind. It has also been used by many looking to lose weight by increasing digestive power and boosting metabolism.
How it’s done:
- Sit up tall while relaxing your shoulders. Then inhale in and out of your nose deeply 3-4 times, expanding your belly completely as you breathe.
- Following the initial breaths, begin the bellows breathing by forcefully exhaling out your nose, then inhaling forcefully. Make sure that each breath comes from your diaphragm while keeping your neck, shoulders and chest still as your belly moves. Each breathing cucle should last approximately one second.
- Continue this for 10 bellows breath (inhale/exhale) cycles.
- After completing the first set, take a 15-30 second break, breathing naturally and paying close attention to your mind and body.
- After the break, complete a round of 20 bellows breath cycles, then pause for another 30 seconds, then finish with 30 cycles.
**Keep in mind that while this is a safe practice, you may feel light headed. Pay attention to your body and adjust accordingly by taking breaks and/or slowing the cycles with less intensity.
2. Deep Breathing
While short, shallow breaths are great for reenergizing and jump starting your metabolism, it can also make you feel anxious. Deep breathing on the other hand, can help you to relax after a stressful day or situation.
How it’s done:
- Get in a comfortable position either lying down or sitting. Just make sure your shoulders, head, and neck supported.
- Breathe in through your nose, filling you belly with air.
- Breathe out through your nose.
- While inhaling and exhaling, place one hand on your belly and the other hand on your chest feeling it rise and fall. As you breathe in, feel your belly rise. As you breathe out, feel your belly lower. The hand on your belly should move more than the one that's on your chest. This will ensure you are breathing with your diaphragm, not your chest.
- Take three more full, deep breaths.
3. Wim Hof breathing method
Known for not only surviving in freezing temperatures, but thriving in them with not much more than a swimsuit on, Wim Hof is changing the way people see the mind and body. But while the cold is an integral part in Hof’s method, so is breathing. In fact, it is one of his three pillars he teaches those who want to learn his ways.
How it’s done:
- Find a comfortable place either sitting or lying on your back.
- Breathe in and out through your mouth 30-40 times at a steady pace. These are called, “power breaths.” The key here is to inhale fully while not exhaling completely. On the inhale you should feel your belly rise and on the exhale, your belly should fall. See it s controlled hyperventilation. *You may feel a tingling or lightheaded sensation throughout your whole body, when you do this for the first time, which is normal.
- After 30-40 power breaths, empty your lungs of air and hold/retain the breath for as long as you can without forcing the air out.
- After the breath retention, take a deep breath in and hold it for 10-15 seconds before exhaling.
- Repeat the whole process for another three rounds.
- After the four rounds, meditate for five minutes, closing your eyes and bringing your awareness to your breathing and the space between your eyes.