By guest author Molly Larkin
Have you been seeking a “fountain of youth?” If so, you will be pleased to know it lies within you, just a breath away, with a breathing technique to balance your brain.
Some years ago I was a passenger in my boyfriend’s car when he rear-ended the car in front of him, and we were immediately struck from behind.
The force of the impact propelled my body so hard into the shoulder belt it literally knocked the air out of me, leaving me gasping for breath.
My boyfriend, trying to take the focus off his having caused the accident, decided it would be a good idea to make fun of my distress and started making pretend gasping sounds himself.
Needless to say, I was neither comforted nor amused.
Eventually my breath came back; and not long after, the boyfriend was gone.
Until one has an experience like that, it’s easy to take the miracle of our breath for granted.
I spent the first 45 years of my life not being aware of my breathing at all. As I became more involved with yoga, spirituality and health practices, I learned that correct “abdominal breathing” is one of the keys to a healthy life.
Children do abdominal breathing automatically until, around the age of seven, they start to breathe shallowly just like most adults.
In fact, I’ve come to view abdominal breathing exercises as the fountain of youth. Let me explain why.
The secret life of breath
Perhaps it’s the simplicity of breathing that leads to forget its magnificence. We don’t have to think about it; it just is.
But just as we know that walking around the office or the house isn’t really enough exercise for a healthy body [hence gyms, running shoes and bicycles], breathing exercises help counter our relatively sedentary lifestyles and purge the body of toxins.
Each day we breathe about 20,000 times. In fact, the human body is designed to release 70% of its toxins through breathing! So it’s important to get it right.
If you’re not breathing fully [and most of us don’t], you’re not ridding your body of all of its toxins. The result is that other systems in the body must work overtime to do so. This in itself can lead to illness.
We can survive weeks without food, days without water, and almost no time without breath. Yet the typical person uses just 20% of their lung capacity!
We knew how to do abdominal breathing as children, but as we grew up and became attuned to the stress of modern life, our breath got shallow.
It is estimated by Andrew Weil, M.D. that 80% of the population is breathing incorrectly and don’t know it. The good news is that it’s easy to learn to breathe correctly.
What is “abdominal breathing”?
In abdominal breathing, the abdomen expands on the inhale. This expansion allows the lower portion of the lungs to fill with air.
Then the abdomen falls along with a slow exhale.
This movement of the abdomen gives your internal organs a massage as the diaphragm moves, too.
Inhales should be slow and through the nose because:
a. it moistens the air as it goes through the nostrils and,
b. the little hairs inside your nose act as a filter to keep out dust and bacteria.
If you don’t have a meditation practice, focusing on slow, deep breathing is an excellent place to start because it slows down the body and creates a sense of inner peace.
Also, 75% of illness is stress-related, so we need to learn to relax and breathing exercises help us do just that.
The benefits of deep breathing
Best-selling author and oncologist Mitchell Gaynor, M.D., who teaches breathing exercises to his cancer patients, says, “Breathing is the basis for all our cellular functions, our energetic well-being, even our emotional health.”
Each inhale brings in oxygen and starts the process of transforming our nutrients into fuel. Each exhale is a detoxification, releasing carbon dioxide.
Good Breathing also:
• Purifies the blood
• Increases energy
• Lowers blood pressure
• Improves circulation
• Cleanses the lungs
• Calms the mind
• Beats anxiety disorders without drugs
• Helps digestion
• Helps improve sleep
• Helps the nervous and respiratory systems function more smoothly
• Reduces pain [The Lamaze technique teaches expectant mothers slow abdominal breathing in order to reduce the pain of childbirth]
Numerous studies have directly associated respiratory capacity with longevity. In fact, researchers have determined that the greatest predictor of health and longevity is respiratory capacity.
Over our lifetime, our respiratory capacity naturally decreases unless we are consciously working to maintain it. The average person reaches peak respiratory function and lung capacity in their mid-20s, after which they start to lose up to 9 – 27% of their lung capacity each decade of their life.
Diminished respiratory capacity is one of the reasons the elderly so easily succumb to pneumonia.
Dr. Otto Warburg received the 1931 Nobel Prize for proving that cancer cells are anaerobic, meaning they cannot survive in an oxygen-rich environment. Germs, fungi and bacteria are also anaerobic.
Lack of oxygen reserves is also a risk factor in heart attacks.
In a nutshell, the better you breathe, the longer and better you live.
Alternate nostril breathing: Nadi shodhana
Yogis consider Nadi Shodhana to be one of the best techniques to balance the mind and nervous system.
Doing alternate nostril breathing exercises helps to balance the right [feeling] and left [thinking] hemispheres of the brain, which:
• optimizes both creativity and logic/verbal ability
• stimulates the brain, bringing alertness
• calms the nervous system
• activates intuition
I have practiced alternate nostril breathing for over 10 years on a daily basis and truly believe it has helped me to become calmer and more balanced.
Sit in a comfortable position with a straight spine and follow these steps:
1. Use your right thumb to close the right nostril
2. Inhale slowly through the left nostril
3. Release the right nostril; close the left with your right ring finger
4. Exhale through the right nostril
5. Inhale through the right
6. Close the right nostril with right thumb
7. Exhale through the left
These seven steps make up one cycle. Sit quietly for a few moments after you have finished.
This technique should be done no more than three complete cycles at one time at the beginning. Too much oxygen to the brain when you’re not used to it can cause light-headness, so build up the number of cycles gradually.
Daily practice is ideal; add one round a week and make your breath as slow as possible. However, don’t do this breath if you have a cold or your nasal passages are blocked.
Breathe deeply and slowly. The average person breathes 12-15 breaths per minute; this means they’re breathing shallowly. Aim for doing 5-6 cycles per minute of Nadi Shodhana. That’s slow, deep breathing.
I do 10-15 minutes of deep breathing exercises each morning, and this one is my favorite. Give it a try and experience your life becoming more balanced.
Molly Larkin is the co-author of the international best-seller, “The Wind Is My Mother; The Life and Teachings of A Native American Shaman.” Download her free ebook of inspirational quotes. And read her inspirational posts at Ancient Wisdom for A Life in Balance.