Breathing: you’ve already got all the equipment you need, it’s free, and you can practice it anytime, anyplace. The trick is to get it right. According to Nicole Bordeleau, registered yoga teacher and founder of YogaMonde, everyone should pay closer attention to their breathing because of its many potential health benefits. “It eliminates toxins in the body, purifies your blood, improves sexuality, massages your internal organs and enables you to assimilate food better,” she explains.
Breathing techniques derived from ancient yoga and meditation practices promote health and longevity through their holistic connection of body, mind and spirit. “The residual effects of practicing proper breathing techniques are immediate,” Bordeleau says. “You begin to feel energized, your nervous system is calmed and your skin colour changes (flushed cheeks).”
As children, proper breathing is second nature. But over time, we tend to constrict our abdomens and breathe mainly into our chests, conflicting with the body’s natural breathing posture. With our oxygen intake restricted, a variety of problems can result: increased stress, anxiety, a lack of confidence and an inability to concentrate. “Bad breathing is also responsible for digestive problems, constipation, difficulty with PMS and headaches,” Bordeleau says.
Recognize Inefficient Breathing Habits
1. Upper chest breathing: Lie down, place one hand on the upper chest and the other on the abdomen. Bordeleau explains, “If the hand on the chest is the first to move, while the other is motionless, you’re an upper chest breather.”
2. Mouth breathing: It’s fairly easy to identify a mouth breather. “You can usually hear them,” says Bordeleau.
3. Over-breathing: “Lie down and count the seconds after exhalation,” says Bordeleau. “For instance, if you exhale for four seconds and inhale for six seconds that isn’t good. Exhalation should be slightly longer than inhalation.”
4. Shallow breathing: “Lie on your back and place one hand on your lower ribs,” Bordeleau explains. “You should feel a motion without effort; your lower ribs will expand and retract. If they’re motionless, your breathing is too shallow. Even if your belly moves, the diaphragm should also move.”
5. Reverse breathing: This occurs when the diaphragm is pulled into the chest upon inhalation and drops into the abdomen during exhalation.
6. Breath retention: Holding one’s breath after inhaling is surprisingly common. Pay attention while inhaling and exhaling. Breath-holders sometimes have a hard time initiating exhalation.
Inefficient breathing habits affect the lives of many, but the good news is that they can all be reversed. Bordeleau believes that with a little practice you can achieve good breathing, which is “deep, fluid, even, silent and uninterrupted.”
If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you’re probably familiar with the word pranayama. For those who aren’t, pranayama are controlled breathing practices. The most common exercise is alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhanam). “Yogis believe that we have two nostrils for a reason, connecting to the right and left sides of the brain,” explains Bordeleau. “This is a channel purification exercise that unblocks and balances the flow of energy.”
Nadi shodhanam should be practiced two or three times a day on an empty stomach and bladder. Only a few minutes of the exercise are needed; it’s best to not exceed five minutes per session.
Controlled Breathing (Nadi Shodhanam) Exercise
Make sure your head and neck are well aligned. You’ll use your thumb to close your right nostril and your ring finger to close your left, pressing lightly just below the bony part of the nose. Relax and focus on your breathing for a few seconds before starting:
• Close your left nostril
• Exhale once and inhale once through the right nostril
• Close the right nostril
• Exhale once and inhale once through the left nostril
• Continue switching from side to side (it takes nine breaths on each side to complete one round)
• Take three resting breaths through both nostrils in between rounds