Conscious Breathing

Simple exercises for deep relaxation

Conscious Breathing

Reducing stress, sleeping better, or relieving pain - all may be as simple as becoming conscious of our breath. Deep breathing techniques can change our life!

Breathing is absolutely essential to life, but it’s often overlooked as a necessity for good health. Practising conscious breathing can help us to improve our sleep, reduce stress, and boost overall health.

Poor breathing habits are widespread

Take a moment right now to pay attention to the way you are breathing. The simple act of taking a breath is something that most of us don’t even notice we’re doing. We do it automatically, and until something goes awry, we take it for granted. In Canada, we tend to live busy lives that take away the consciousness of our breath. We inhale and exhale shallowly, and do so almost the entire length of the day. Some of us even breathe this way while we sleep.

Poor breathing habits can lead to negative health consequences—our body’s organs cannot work to their full potential without plenty of oxygen and the proper elimination of carbon dioxide.

So, what can we do to reverse these obviously undesirable effects? Breathe, baby, breathe!

Becoming conscious of our breath

Many common health ailments can be at least somewhat alleviated simply by making a conscious effort to breathe slowly and deeply. These include high blood pressure, migraine headaches, anxiety, stress, chronic pain, depression, asthma, and insomnia.

Kara Coleman, yoga instructor and director of Parallel Yoga, is a big proponent of deep, conscious breath. “Proper breathing techniques can be the key to many things,” she says. “They are instrumental in reducing stress levels, blood pressure, muscular tension, and more. You will often hear yoga teachers talking about breathing through postures, which helps students keep their balance. Conscious breathing won’t just help with a balanced yoga practice—it may also help keep a balanced life.”

The benefits of deep breathing

Breath is powerful. Becoming aware of the way we breathe can help us deal with a variety of common ailments immediately and effectively. Deep inhalations (the kind practised during yoga) can provide pain relief, stress reduction, and better sleep, and may even improve our concentration. (Who couldn’t use that?)

Relieve pain

Deep breathing may help to relieve pain naturally. In a recent study involving 14 patients suffering from fibromyalgia (a disease in which pain is chronic), researchers concluded that qigong, an exercise involving meditation and deep breathing, had a profoundly positive effect on managing the intervention group’s fibromyalgia symptoms, including pain.

Reduce stress

Stress is normal and necessary, and it’s not all bad. There is good stress (bringing home a new baby) and bad stress (being fired from your job). Unfortunately for us, our bodies can’t tell the difference. Stress contributes to a huge variety of health issues, so making a conscious effort to reduce and manage it is vitally important. Deep breathing encourages the body to relax and unwind.

Sleep better

People who are exposed to chronic stress are at a greater risk for insomnia. These people operate with elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol is released in the body, sleep becomes extremely difficult, because the body finds it more difficult to relax.

Deep breathing is thought to promote relaxation by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system, thereby breaking the cycle of insomnia.

Think clearly

A study published in 2007 involved students who participated in deep breathing meditation exercises, in the hopes that reduced stress might aid them academically. The researchers concluded that “students reported having perceptions of decreased test anxiety, nervousness, self-doubt, and concentration loss.”

Try deep breathing the next time you find yourself reaching for a pain reliever, are feeling stressed out, are having trouble sleeping, or need to power through the last few pages of that work report. Take advantage of what your amazing body has to offer—one of its most basic functions, and a secret to a yogi’s wise perspective on life—your breath.

Breathing techniques

Try these breathing techniques for a sense of peace and relaxation.

Breathing technique 1: to practise at home

  • Sit cross-legged in a dark, quiet room.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Using your thumb, cover up your right nostril, and breathe deeply through your left nostril for a count of 6.
  • Pause for a count of 2.
  • Remove your thumb, and cover your left nostril with your forefinger, and exhale completely through your right nostril for a count of 6.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times.

Breathing technique 2: to practise at work

  • Close your eyes if you can.
  • Inhale through your nose evenly and deeply for a count of 8.
  • Pause for a count of 3.
  • Exhale completely through your nose for a count of 8.
  • Pause for a count of 3.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times.

Breathing technique 3: to practise if you can’t sleep

  • Keeping your eyes closed, and lying flat on your back in bed, deeply inhale through your nose for a count of 6.
  • Pause for a count of 3.
  • Slowly exhale completely through your nose for a count of 6.
  • Pause for a count of 3.
  • Deeply inhale through your nose for a count of 8.
  • Pause for a count of 3.
  • Exhale completely through your nose for a count of 8.
  • Repeat steps, each time increasing the count by two until you stretch your breath out for as many counts as you can—try to get to 12! Once you’ve done this, repeat 10 times.

Breathing technique 4: to practise anywhere, anytime

  • Close your eyes if you can.
  • Sharply inhale 5 times through your nose without exhaling.
  • Pause for 5.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth as if you’re fogging up a window—slowly and evenly.
  • Repeat 15 times.

Deeper relaxation

For even deeper relaxation, try focusing on an affirmation during your inhales and exhales. Visualizing the words “I” on your inhale and “can” on your exhale can help to clarify your thoughts and provide clearer intent and concentration. Other affirmations include “re” and “lax,” and “slow” and “down.”

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