Breathing Techniques & Exercises

Breathing is a very important aspect of our life. There is a saying that goes” Life is breath and breath is life”. So long as there is breath in the body there is life.

Our physical health, mental balance and emotional stability are all affected in the manner that we breathe. When we breathe well our respiratory system works its best, by using full capacity of the lungs. There is a remarkable improvement in digestive, circulation and eliminative process.


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Hatha Yoga Breathing

This will improve your state of mind and physically you will feel better. The quality of your breathing also affects the functioning of all the systems of the body and the quality of your entire life.

Improper breathing techniques is the root cause to a number illness. People get habituated and become droopy and lazy and they consider it a normal condition, which is unfortunately not.

Good breathing techniques has many benefits and is slow, full, deep and rhythmic and

  1. Improves your sleep pattern.
  2. It aids in calming the mind, nerves and emotion.
  3. Improves all mental processes including concentration and memory.
  4. Tension is released.
  5. It supplies more oxygen to the body cells and so blood is purified.
  6. Helps to overcome tiredness and to rejuvenate energy.

When we breathe in or inhale, oxygen is absorbed by every cell of the body to carry on activities of our life. And we breathe out or exhale to throw out waste products of inhalation, which is carbon dioxide. When we breathe in oxygen is drawn into the lungs from the atmosphere and then carried to the blood, which is pumped by the heart and is carried around the body. When we breathe out carbon dioxide collected by the blood from all the body’s tissues are thrown out.

The lungs can expand, as they are elastic and flexible. They have a huge capacity but few people use only a small amount of it. If the lungs were opened and spread out, they would occupy an area forty times larger than the skin of the whole body.

We think that with a deep breath we can lift our upper chest and thrust it out with a gasp or a loud sniff. This is not correct. It will have reverse effect on deep breathing, because it reduces the space within your chest cavity rather then increasing it and this compresses the lung.

Our lungs can be compared to a pair of balloons which when blown expand in all directions that is forwards, backwards, sideward and downward as well as upwards. This expansion depends a lot on the tone and elasticity of the muscles involved in breathing process: the intercostals muscles, the diaphragm and to some extent the abdominal muscles.

The brain sends the nerve impulses through the brain to the intercostals muscles and the diaphragm, by which breathing is controlled. Here the muscular action is automatic and the impulses are not under our control. By improvising our breathing techniques we in our consciousness can control the condition of the muscles and the quality of their action.

  1. The intercostals muscles

    The intercostals muscle occupies the space between the ribs. To help with inhalation and exhalation the muscles extend and contract.

    When the intercostals muscle are functioning well the action of the ribs are free and smooth. These muscles are attached to our breastbone in the front and to our spine at the back. When we breathe in, the space within the chest is increased facilitating the lungs to fill and expand because the muscles swing upwards and outwards towards the armpits. On the other hand when we breathe out they relax and come back to their original position. The lungs return to their resting state and the space within the chest is reduced.

  2. The diaphragm

    The diaphragm is a dome shaped sheet of muscle, which is large and strong and separates the chest from the abdomen. Its functions are to allow the lungs to fill and expand: empty and reduce with the help of the intercostals muscle. As you breathe in your diaphragm moves downwards increasing the space within the chest cavity. When you breathe out it relaxes coming back to its resting position and space within the chest is reduced.

    As explained earlier the action of the diaphragm is not under our control, but the quality of action is related to the condition of the intercostals muscle. The action of the diaphragm will be limited if there is less movement and the toning is not proper. The movement is unlimited and proper, and breathing is slow, full and rhythmic if both are functioning well. The abdominal organs are toned, massaged and exercised by the movement of the diaphragm.

  3. The abdominal muscles

    In the process of breathing the abdominal muscles also have a role to play. The abdomen is separated from the chest cavity by the diaphragm. Since the diaphragm lies in between it forms the floor of one and roof of the other. When we breathe in the diaphragm moves downwards to create space within the chest, and the abdomen provides room for it to do so. The abdominal muscles create the required space, by moving forward a little. The diaphragm and the abdominal muscles relax and return to there resting position after every out breath.

    Our abdomen should be in a relaxed position when we breathe in normally. The breath will be unnatural if we try to push it forwards purposely. Gradually you will develop a potbelly, because your abdominal muscles will weaken and droop. But towards the end of an out breath if there is a slight pull on the abdominal muscles, then it assists the upward movement of the diaphragm leading to a more complex out breath. The abdominal organs are massaged and the left over air (carbon dioxide) is thrown from the lungs. For the abdominal this is the most effective way of exercising them.

Very few of us breathe well.

And so we need to improve it. Babies and young children breathe well. But with age, most of the people lose this ability. Shallow breathing techniques is the result of stress, tension, emotional problems, atmospheric pollution, lack of exercise, smoking, poor postural habits and poor eating habits. Rapid and irregular breathing techniques takes place mainly in the upper chest, with little use of ribcage and lung capacity.

When we get habituated to restricted breathing, the intercostals muscles are forced to work less and they forget their actual functions and finally lose their natural elasticity and the ability to get back to their original shape. Everything suffers because the action of the diaphragm is quick and restricted, the ribcage becomes rigid and fixed and we start breathing in shallow manner.

It will take time to change your faulty breathing techniques. To start functioning properly in the earlier manner, tone and elasticity should be restored to the intercostals muscles. Don’t start breathing more deeply suddenly to set right your breath. That will be unnatural and will make you feel uncomfortable.

Exercising is the proper way to start developing healthy breathing habits. Any form of exercise like walking, running, cycling and swimming will help. This will make your breathing apparatus to work more efficiently because your need for oxygen increases. There are even exercises designed specially, for the intercostals muscles to work while sitting or standing. When you exercise the chest opens, the ribcage extends and the lungs expand. All this will lead to slow and deep breath, which is perfect.

When the tone of intercostals muscle improves, there will be a natural healthy breath pattern, which will increase the flow of energy throughout your entire body system. This will improve your health physically and your concentration mentally. But your lifetime habit of breathing cannot be changed within a day. You will observe the changes only if you practice daily for a few minutes.

Many of the exercises that we discussed in earlier chapter especially arm rotations, the upper back exercises and various spinal stretches all aid proper breathing. In the next chapter exercises for movement and breathing in a standing position are discussed. These cultivate better breathing habits in us.

If you sit badly things will be very bad and you will be unable to breathe properly because if your spine stoops your chest will collapse and your abdomen will be squashed. Office environment hardly facilitates better breathing because you are sitting inside almost all the time without fresh air and poor ventilation. Due to this there is very little breathing exercise and there is not much requirement of oxygen and the lungs and breathing muscles are not working efficiently.

Like I have been mentioning always learn to sit well on top priority. Breathing is something without which we cease to exist therefore we need to create good conditions for this important activity. This I have already explained in Chapter 1. You will be giving yourself a chance to breathe well at all times if you learn to sit well.

Yoga is a word adopted from Sanskrit and it means union. In simple words it is the union the co-ordination of mind, body and breath. Maintaining balance, peaceful existence and integration is the main aim of yoga. The important factors in yoga practice are breath awareness and co-ordination among breath and movement.

The body and mind are linked to each other by an important factor, breath. The aim with which we practice breath awareness and co-ordination is to bring the body and mind into peaceful existence. We create energy by observing and following breathing exercise and besides that we can save energy rather then waste it. By breath awareness we learn to concentrate on a single thing at a time. This is a good foundation towards meditation practice.

During a practice session there is a short period for relaxation usually at the beginning and at the end of the session. When we practice breath awareness throughout the session our mind becomes calm, steady and attentive. Your inward attention increases and you become more sensitive towards your inner being. This will further lead you to a sense of profound stillness, refreshed and peaceful feeling with your inner self which is the last part of relaxation.

The peaceful and quiet atmosphere at home or the atmosphere of a yoga class are very encouraging to attain state of harmony and to carry on your breathing exercise when compared to work place atmosphere. Whether you are practicing for two minutes or two hours the principle is the same.

At work place too you may get well adapted to carry on with your breathing exercise if you practice regularly. Prepare yourself absorb wholly in what you are doing and forget all the problems lying on your desk for a few minutes.

After certain time of practice you will be overwhelmed by the benefit from the breathing exercises and would love to devote more time to it. You may even start practicing at home. If this happens then your efforts will bear fruits of which you haven’t even imagined. And what started off, as a mere exercise to relieve certain tension will end becoming an important part of your life.

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