Take a minute to conduct an exercise:
With your eyes closed, try to focus on your breath. Think about the fact that our natural breathing is typically shallow; air goes in through the nose, hits the back of the throat, and fills (part of) the lungs. Now try again. Straighten up, push your shoulders back, expand your rib cage, and elongate the spine. This time, breathe slow and deep, and try to send oxygen all the way to bottom of your lungs, while your diaphragm expands. As you exhale, notice how the temperature of the air leaving your body is a little warmer than the temperature of the air that went in. Repeat this a few times to really notice these little things that are, in fact, happening all the time, but that we rarely notice.
The truth is, a conscious and mindful addition of breathing techniques can be invaluable in improving concentration, increasing endurance, and relieving anxiety and stress.
While exercising, or engaging in any movement practice, it is important that your muscles and organs get enough oxygen. While every practice has its principles of breathing, a good rule of thumb is that any expansion of the body should be accompanied by a deep and slow exhalation. During a contraction such as a lunge, a crunch, a twist, or any movement that involves the closing in of the body, an exhalation will release muscles and create room in the abdomen, diaphragm, and chest to allow for optimal movement. It is also important to attempt to slow your breath when the instinct is to pant or gasp when tired. This technique ensures that the maximum amount of oxygen reaches your body’s muscles and tissues, greatly improving both endurance and recovery.
While at Rest
Periodically taking a minute or two to check your breathing during the day, particularly at times of stress, can help centre the mind and body. If your lifestyle involves long hours at a desk, or high-paced activities, a few minutes every few hours of slow, mindful breathing can help manage anxiety, headaches, and fatigue.
The yogic practice of mindful breathing, pranayama, comes from the understanding that breath is a life force. This collection of controlled breathing techniques is aimed at cultivating physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
Some powerful pranayama techniques include:
- Nadi Shodhana: Alternate nostril breathing
- Ujjayi: A technique that involves deep inhalation and exhalation through the nose, creating a subtle hissing or oceanic sound in the throat.
- Kapalabhati: A rapid, forceful exhalation through the nose along with a contraction of the stomach muscles, followed by passive inhalation
- Bhramari: Inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly with a humming sound, while keeping eyes and ears closed
- Sitali: A technique that involves inhaling through a rolled tongue or the teeth, followed by a slow exhalation through the nose.
B.K.S. Iyengar, the renowned yoga guru and the founder of the Iyengar school of yoga once said that “breath is the vehicle of the spirit”. With just a few minutes per day, and a little attention during your exercise routines, a conscious breathing practice will do you wonders!