Breathing is a crucial way to cleanse ourselves from unhealthy emotional and physical conditions. But because its involuntary, most of us take it for granted and we do it all wrong. In one year an average adult with bad breathing habits inhales about four to five tons of oxygen, but only a thousand pounds of it are actually used; we get only half the oxygen we need and expel only half the carbon dioxide we should and we end up robbing ourselves of energy.This high level of carbon dioxide in the blood causes the bodys flight or fight mechanism to kick in and the carotid artery, the main artery to the brain, to constrict. The result is a buildup of harmful stress that surges through the body, attacking the immune system.On the other hand, when we breathe freely and deeply, the diaphragm, belly and chest undulate with the rhythm of each breath and the whole body is energized with oxygen. Its a good idea to watch a young child or an animal breathe and observe how the body moves when the breathing is natural and relaxed. As adults most of us have lost this knack. We breathe shallowly. We just dont make full use of our diaphragms. Muscular tension that has evolved over years of poor posture is largely to blame for our shallow breathing. But we may also unconsciously restrict our breathing as a way of suppressing painful emotions, for the depth of our breathing is also related to the richness and intensity of our feelings. Many of us have learned to control rather than to express our deepest feelings, and this inevitably means lightening our chests or bellies, the seat of our feelings. In the process of distancing ourselves from feelings of sadness, anger, or fear, we also block the free flow of purifying energy in the body and diminish our capacity for pleasure.
The following exercises will help you to relax and cleanse your system. With practice you may be able to change your negative breathing patterns, gain vitality and achieve a calmer state of mind.
Heres how to do it:
For full breathing, lie on the floor, resting our hands on the side of your rib cage just above the waist, and exhale completely. Inhale slowly through the nose, letting your abdomen rise as much as possible for five seconds, expanding and filling your rib cage. Hold for five seconds. Now slowly exhale through the mouth for ten seconds, expelling all the air from your chest down to your abdomen.
Or, lie on our back with your upper body propped up on a pillow at about at about a thirty-degree angle. Place a book on our stomach to make sure youre breathing with your abdomen, not your chest. Focus your attention on your nostrils and gently inhale, concentrating on the feeling of taking air in through your nose. Next, gently exhale, and completely relax one group of muscles (shoulders, arms, legs), letting them go limp and heavy. Once youve exhaled fully breathe in again, continue the process and switch muscle groups for eight to ten minutes. Try this exercise once a day for optimum effects.
For hot flashes, the goal is to cut your breathing rate in half. Instead of taking fourteen to sixteen breaths per minute, take six to eight. You can use slow breathing as a preventative measure or as an on-the-spot treatment if you feel a flash coming on.
Robin Westen writes about health for national magazines.
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