Breathing is something that we all take for granted. After all, if we were to stop, trouble would quickly arise.
Breathing should be considered more than a mere survival mechanism, though. An appropriate breathing exercise can turn your day around, boosting your sense of wellbeing.
What is a Breathing Exercise?
A breathing exercise is essentially a workout for your diaphragm. The diaphragm is a muscle located between the abdomen and the thorax in the human body.
Traditional, steady breathing inflates and deflates the diaphragm, and by extension, your ribcage. This is why the chest rises and falls with each breath.
Like all muscles, the diaphragm benefits from a higher-intensity workout from time to time. This can be provided by a breathing exercise.
Health Benefits of a Breathing Exercise
There are many benefits to undertaking a deep breathing exercise, both physically and mentally. Some advantages of bringing these techniques into your life include:
- Reduced risk and impact of respiratory illness, including asthma and COPD
- Greater lung capacity, leading to enhanced fitness and endurance
- Slower, steadier heart rate, reducing strain on this vital organ
- Calm and mindful headspace, reducing stress and anxiety
- Improved physical posture
- Greater ability to focus and concentrate, and improvement of memory
- Sense of relaxation to aid deep, restful sleep
- Superior blood flow to the hair follicles. Yes, breathing exercises can even delay hair loss!
Five Breathing Exercises to Bring into Your Life
Looking to adopt a breathing exercise? Great. You’re ready to take your first step toward superior health and wellbeing.
There are plenty of techniques to choose from. Here are five to get your started. Learn which breathing exercise yields the greatest results for you and make it part of your everyday routine – or to mix-and-match all five.
Autonomically Optimized Respiration
This is arguably the simplest breathing exercise of all. Autonomically optimized respiration is essentially just slowing down your breathing.
On average, we take between 12 and 18 breaths per minute. This is not necessary for the human body to flourish. In fact, it places unnecessary strain on the organs.
Focus on your breath and slow down to a maximum of 6 breaths per minute. This is a great basic training exercise to equip you for more advanced practices.
Nadi Shodhana Breathing
Nadi shodhana is colloquially known as alternate nostril breathing. It’s common in yoga and is believed to enhance performance of internal organs and calm the mind. It also clears any congestion in the nose.
To practice nadi shodhana:
- Sit up straight
- Block your right nostril and breathe deeply for the left for 3 seconds
- Now block your left nostril and release the right, breathing out for 4 seconds
- Repeat for as long as you feel comfortable
Loosely translating as, “skull shining”, kapalabhati is a yoga breathing exercise. This technique focusses more on exhalation than inhalation and is believed to reduce stress.
To practice this breathing exercise:
- Sit up straight with your feet flat on the ground
- Place your hand over your lower belly, a little below the navel
- Breathe deeply, in through the mouth and out through the nose
- Close your mouth and expel air from the lungs through the nose by pushing your belly
- Do not willfully breathe in; let your lungs fill naturally
- Repeat the cycle. Start with 10 of these breaths per minute, gradually increasing to up to 100 short exhales through the nose
The Three Rs
You may know the three Rs as Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. When it comes to breathing, the letter R has a different definition. To practice the Three Rs breathing exercise:
- Regulate your breathing. Inhale for 3 seconds, then exhale for 3 more
- Recover lost energy and give yourself a cardio workout. Slow your breathing to just 6 breaths per minute, as per autonomically optimized respiration
- Rejuvenate your body and muscles by increasing your breathing back to 10 breaths per minute or more. This floods the blood with oxygen
Wim Hof Breathing
Wim Hof is a Dutch athlete known as, “the iceman” due to his resilience to sub-zero temperatures. Wim achieves these feats, and a range of health benefits, through breathing techniques that place his body in a state of pure relaxation.
To practice the Wim Hof breathing exercise:
- Take up a comfortable seated position – ideally a meditation pose – and relax
- Take deep, rapid breaths through the nose, exhaling through the mouth. Take 30 or 40 breaths per minute. You may feel lightheaded. Keep going – this will pass
- After one minute, take a deep breath and hold for 15 seconds
- Exhale and start the exercise again. You can do this up to 4 times in succession
There is more to breathing than simply inhaling and exhaling oxygen. Practicing a breathing exercise can be the difference between health and focus or sluggish lethargy. Bring these routines into your daily schedule and you’ll feel better than you ever thought possible.