Updated: May 23
In todays fast paced society, your probably familiar with your heart pounding at the overwhelming amount of tasks to juggle and cope with, for example meeting deadlines for work projects, kids homework, bills to pay, places to be on time whist having to fight through the traffic....all stressors which we can encounter on a daily basis. To counter balance this we rush to the gym in a hope to relieve this stress, when in fact, exercise itself is a stressor and can lead to over loading an already stressed body and mind...sound familiar? So if you are a high achiever and/ or are busy trying to support a family and feel you are putting on weight around your middle, you probably have high cortisol levels, which is a hormone activated in stressful situations to enable a flight or fight response. With high Cortisol, a vicious circle of insomnia/sleep deprivation leading to fatigue and low motivation; leading to inactivity, over eating and weight gain which can lead chronic diseases, illness and depression. Cortisol also inhibits the immune system to function properly which is why many people get ill after their first week in the gym. In order to adjust the work life balance properly and allow the body to start working in harmony again, there are many adjustments which can be made and places to start.
Breathing is one thing we have to do to stay alive but many may not be doing properly and effectively. By simply using breathing techniques which can be done anywhere and in any situation, it could help you to control your reaction to stress, lower cortisol and enable you to cope more effectively and productively with your busy lifestyle. There are a number of breathing techniques used in times of stress and anxiety and some are even being taught to children in schools. The most simple method and the first most important technique is to learn to "belly breathe". The majority of people only use the top third of their lung capacity (clavicular breathing), this shallow breathing is something which automatically happens when we are stressed or in panic mode; think what would happen if you were thrown into ice cold water! Being able to focus on your breathing in such extreme stress situations could save your life! It has been said the Navy Seals use a "box breathing" technique for such situations if they have been captured.
In Yoga the " Full Yogic breath" or "Belly breathing" is taught first followed by two other techniques "Kapalabhati" and "Anuloma Viloma". I am a certified Sivananda Yoga Teacher and the above breathing techniques will be explained through the Sivananda teaching method.
The " Full Yogic Breath" can be practiced in the seated position or lying down. It is performed in three stages:
The first is the hardest part to grasp, as most people breath in the top part of the lungs or clavicular. The air must be drawn down into the lowest part of the lungs on inhalation, moving the diaphragm downwards into the abdomen. To feel this place your hands on your belly and feel it rise or push out.
For the second part fill the lungs even more by allowing the ribcage to expand in the middle section.
The third stage is when the upper chest/ clavicular region expands. The reverse happens on exhalation when the belly or navel sinks down, then the ribcage and lastly the chest. This is "Proper" breathing and should be performed daily to reduce stress and lower the acidity in the blood.
Kapalabhati is a “Pranayama” or breathing technique. “Kapala” meaning skull and “bhati” means shining. Practised regularly it cleanses the whole system and the face shines with radiance and health.
“ Pranayama" is the link between the mental and physical discipline . While action is physical, the effect is to make the mind calm, lucid and steady.” – Swami Vishnu -devananda
Sit in a cross-legged position, with the hips raised on a cushion to bring them to knee level. With the back straight rest the hands on the knees with the palms up and in “Chin- Mudra” index finger and thumb touching.
• Take 2 -3 deep breaths allowing the tummy to rise and the chest.
• After the last inhalation, contract the abdominal muscles forcefully pushing the air out through the nostrils ( as if blowing out a candle through your nose).
• Relax the abdominal muscles allowing the diaphragm to descend, creating a vacuum for the air yo naturally flow back into the lungs without effort.
• Repeat the pumping quickly -passive inhalation and sudden forceful exhalation of breath follow each other continuously until a round is completed.
• Begin with 3 rounds of 20-30 pumpings.
Think about how you can incorporate this breathing into your daily routine. Perhaps in your morning routine – wake up take a glass of water, sit and do "Kapalabhati" followed by your usual morning routine, as a suggestion. Linking on a new habit to another habit like cleaning your teeth is the best way to stick to doing something new.
"Anuloma Viloma"- Alternate Nostril Breathing.
This balances both sides of the brain and helps to control the emotions,cleanses the nasal passage, lungs and the entire respiratory system. Also by practising holding the breath it teaches us self control and restraint.
Practice 3 rounds working up to 5 rounds.
Preparation: raise the right hand and bring it into Vishnu Mudra by folding down the index and middle fingers. Close the right nostril with the thumb and exhale completely through the left. You are now ready to begin:
1. Inhale for the count of “4” through the left nostril keeping the right nostril closed with the thumb.
2. Close the left nostril with the two end fingers so both nostrils are closed to retain the breath for the count of “10”. Your goal is “16” ( 4 times the count of inhalation)
3. Keeping the left nostril closed, release the right nostril and exhale completely to a count of “8” (twice the count of inhalation).
4. Still with the left nostril closed, inhale through the right for a count of “4”.
5. Close both nostrils and retain the breath for a count of “10”.
6. Keeping the right nostril closed, release the fingers of the left nostril and exhale slowly for a count of “8” to complete one round.
7. Repeat for 3- 5 rounds.
In conclusion practicing these breathing techniques is something which can be done anywhere and in any situation. The full Yoga breath may seem a simple and straight forward exercise but once mastered, it has a powerful impact on the mind-body connection and ones ability to cope with stressful situations. Learning to breath properly may also be the key to unlocking your fitness and health.
For more information on learning the yoga breathing techniques, please feel free to leave your details in the contact page of my website.
**All of the above information does not claim to treat or cure any conditions or diseases if you have any concerns please see your GP for advice