The Healing Breath
May 18th, 2019
By Hilde Larsen
Contributing writer for Wake Up World
Did you know that we take about 17,000 breaths a day, for our body to be saturated with oxygen? Breathing also triggers many physiological mechanisms.
In itself, breathing seems simple, we do not even have to think about doing it. This is keeping us alive, yet it can be hindering us from optimal health. The simple technique is that we draw the air through our nose and mouth, then the process of breathing is mostly a lung job. Together with the diaphragm and the ribs and the intercostal muscle, the whole process is automated and a no-brainer.
“As long as your path is that of your heart, it will always be the right one. The journey is yours alone, and only you are the one doing the walking.”- Hilde
Being the connection to life, the breath is also the connection between all of our bodies. Our mental, emotional and physical bodies, all connected through our breathing. The thoughts that you think, and the emotions that you feel will automatically influence and alter your breath. Think about when you are fearful or anxious, the breathing becomes more rapid and even shallow. The calmer the mind, and the more secure our feelings are, the slower and deeper out breath is. This shows us that we can use our breath in the healing of our whole being. We can learn how to consciously use our breath to restore and to balance.
Like I said, I myself used to be a very shallow breather, which is a quite typical scenario when you are living a stress-filled life. What shallow breath means is that one is only using the narrow top portion of the lung surface for oxygen exchange. Our breath literally stops at the diaphragm. Therefor we call it shallow.
A good breath for health will go all the way down, expanding your abdomen. It will take some work, but by being conscious about our breath, we can reprogram our automatic breathing to benefit our whole being. We can re-connect ourselves through the breath of life. When we mainly use shallow upper-chest breathing, we reduce the efficiency of our lungs and the respiratory system. It will result in less blood flow and less productive distribution of the vital lymph fluids than if deep-breathing. This is also an interesting fact about the shallow-breathing; it actually reduces the amount of digestive juices available for the digestive process!
We know how important a functioning digestive system is, so let us be reminded that it is all very connected. Mind-soul-body and breath. All perfectly interwoven and created by God.
Changing how you breathe can foster the self-healing powers of your body.
Are you a shallow breather also? There are a few obvious ways that you can tell, so get to it and find out. Lie down and put one hand on your chest and the other one on your abdomen. Breathe like you usually do, and watch your hands. Breathe normally. If the hand on your chest raises first, you are a shallow-breather, of the one on your abdomen raises first, you are a deep-breather.
By spending time alone with our breathing, we will start to experience ourselves as more than this physical body. It is the simple way to start any meditation practice, to simply be aware of the breath. Once we become a part of our breath, or breathing, the mind loses its grip, and stillness can come forth. This way, even the subconscious mind will start to dissolve its thought patterns. This in itself is a major key to why conscious breathing is healing on all levels. The breathing might open a flow of emotions and feelings, as you are able to really connect with them. Keep breathing and know that it is all good. It is all as it should be, you, your breathing, your healing and your future life.
On the physical level, we know that breath moves lymph, and in the light of detoxification, we know how important this is. Our lungs are also one of our main eliminating organs, and we need them strong and working up to their potentials. Simply lying on your back while taking deep breaths will let your lymph move all through your body.
A regular daily practice of deep breathing techniques and conscious breathing practices will give long standing benefits. Any breathing exercise can also be used as a tool for calming a stressful situation, or for driving away anxiety and uneasiness. When you notice that your breathing is hectic, shallow or stressful, use one of the techniques below. This way, as you practice, you will slowly be able to stay in a place of calm in any situation. Yoga, tai chi and qigong, are all ancient practices that incorporate breath as a central component.
I want to introduce you to a few great healing breathing techniques that are very dear to me. By controlling the breath, you can influence every aspect of your life.
I found Pranayama many years ago, and was intrigued by the role that it has amongst Indian healers and practices. The yogis of India have for thousands of years had the experience that certain breathing techniques, applied over time, methodically, will give specific healing results. They have a name for their specific breathing science, and it is called Pranayama. The word Pranayama is derived from the two Sanskrit words Prana – meaning life force, and Yama – meaning control.
By practicing Pranayama, we are clearing the obstructions in all of our bodies. We are allowing the breath itself, the Prana, to flow freely. When breathing is improved, healing is taken to another level.
A regular consistent Pranayama practice is believed to stimulate the parasympathetic system, countering the overstimulation our bodies go through during the so-called fight or flight response. When we experience stressful thoughts and our sympathetic nervous system triggers this response, it gives us a burst of energy to respond to the perceived danger. The breathing quickly becomes rapid and shallow. This results in a tight chest, and the body produces a surge of hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine (also known as adrenaline).
Now, our blood pressure will increase and the pulse rate will rise. We are in a state of constant alert, burning our adrenals from the inside out, which will lead to physical dis-ease down the road. So, again, it is all connected, breath, adrenals, physical health and all. Deep breathing also stimulates the main nerve in the parasympathetic nervous system, the vagus nerve. This will also slow down the heart rate, lower the blood pressure and calm the body and mind. Are you ready to try some great breathing techniques? These are all standard Pranayama practices, and I hope that you do some extra research, for more in-depth information on all of them.
The pranayama techniques focus on one or more of the four parts of the breath, which are inhalation, internal retention, exhalation and retention. The practice states that the exhalation is the most important part of the breath, as only when we are empty, can we take another breath.
I want to share with you my absolute favorite Pranayama practice.
This is referred to as the Nadi Shodhanda: It is used for grounding and calmness, to regain balance. The practice has some great claims for those who practices over time, and for around 20 minutes every day. This is also a great way to start any meditation practice.
It is also called Alternate Nostril breathing, and is said to:
- Improve the ability to focus and be alert.
- Restore balance in the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
- Support the lungs and respiratory system.
- Rejuvenate the whole nervous system.
- Remove toxins by moving the lymphatic system and excreting through the breath.
Start slow and build up slowly. Aim for a 15-30 minute a day practice and make a habit of it. The benefits will come from a steady practice. Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed and sit in a comfortable position. Sit on the floor if you can, with your spine straight. If you need support, or find it is more comfortable for you to sit in a chair, by all means do so. As you evolve though practice, you can move on to sitting in a lotus position on a yoga mat. The practice of pranayama is best done in the early morning before you eat anything. Make sure the room you will be using has a lot of fresh air. This is all about the breath, the air.
- Make sure your heart is open, and that your intent is of love and healing.
- Put your right thumb over your right nostril, while your left arm is relaxing on your lap
- Inhale deeply through your left nostril.
- At the peak of the inhalation, put your fourth finger on your left nostril, loosen the grip of your thumb, and slowly exhale through the right nostril.
- After a full exhalation, inhale through the right nostril, closing it off with your right thumb at the peak of your inhalation, lift your fourth finger and exhale smoothly through your left nostril.
- Keep breathing for as long as it is comfortable, but try to start with at least 3 minutes. Any new practice will take time to learn, and by doing we get better.
Benefits of Nadi Shodhanda:
- Excellent breathing technique to calm and center the mind.
- Our mind has a tendency to keep regretting or glorifying the past and getting anxious about the future. Nadi Shodhan pranayama helps to bring back the mind to the present moment.
- Works therapeutically for most circulatory and respiratory problems.
- Releases accumulated stress in the mind and body effectively and helps relax.
- Helps harmonize the left and right hemispheres of the brain, which correlate to the logical and emotional sides of our personality.
- Helps purify and balance the nadis – the subtle energy channels, thereby ensuring smooth flow of prana (life force) through the body.
- Maintains body temperature.
Breathing deep supplies more oxygen to all our body parts including our digestive system, thus making it work more efficiently. The increased blood flow due to deep breathing also encourages intestinal action which further improves your overall digestion. In addition, deep breathing results in a calmer nervous system, which in turn also enhances optimal digestion.
As our breathing is what moves the lymph, shallow breathing can lead to a sluggish lymphatic system which will not detoxify properly. Deep breathing will help you get the lymph flowing properly so that your body can work more efficient.
Breathe deeply and live stronger!