Breathing is the single most important thing you do.
These amazing breathing techniques will get you through any situation...
We humans have a tendency to take the the most important things for granted. It sometimes even seems as if there is a direct correlation between the significance of something and our lack of thought about it. Many of us are more concerned with when our next glass of wine will be than our next glass of water. If we could give as much attention to climate breakdown as we do to celebrity breakups, who knows what the world would look like? However, there is one thing that is so fundamental to our lives and that happens so automatically we scarcely register its existence. Breathing. It carries you through the good times and the bad. It can also be the difference between making the best decision of your life and the worst. Here are some easy to master breathing techniques that will never fail you.
Breath of Fire
This powerful ancient technique has become extremely popular in the West as the practice of Kundalini Yoga has become more widespread. This breathing technique can form part of a Kriya (a Yoga set) or be used as a standalone exercise and creates massively transformative effects in both the body and mind. Practicing breath of fire regularly helps to cleanse the lungs and maximise their potential. This both calms and invigorates the brain due to an increase in oxygen availability. It also helps to detox the body, relieve pain and strengthen the core.
The first few times you practice it can be a challenge and may leave you feeling slightly spaced out for a few minutes. Fear not, these effects pass quickly and you will still get all the benefits of the exercise.
How to do Breath of Fire
Breath of fire is an active, rhythmic and continuous form of breathing that stems from the abdomen. You will be breathing only through your nostrils with your mouth closed throughout.
- Get into a comfortable seated position that allows you to maintain a straight back. This can be cross-legged, on your knees or in a chair if necessary. Sit up nice and tall in an active yet relaxed posture. Place your hands in your lap.
- Exhale forcefully from your nose (not too much!) using relatively short breaths. Inhales should happen almost automatically after you do this. You should also feel a slight squeeze as the abdomen activates on each exhale.
- Once you get the hang of the technique, increase the rate of breaths to around 2-3 cycles per second. You may also want to close your eyes as this will increase your focus on the breath.
30 seconds should be enough for your first few attempts, although you can go for longer if you don’t start feeling lightheaded or overexerted. It’s also a good idea to lie down and rest for minute or two when you are done. This will help you to overcome any feelings of dizziness or faintness. Even more importantly, lying down will help you to really absorb all the benefits of the practice.
Cooling Breath is another from the ancient family of breathing techniques that have been practiced on the subcontinent for thousands of years. Knowledge only survives that long when it adds real value to people’s lives. This incredible practice does exactly as the name suggests, cool the body. Whether you are suffering from hot flushes or hot weather, this is the breathing exercise for you. It comes in two variations, Sitali and Sitkari. The reason for this is that despite the simplicity of the practice, some people simply cannot perform Sitali as it requires being able to ‘curl’ or ‘roll’ the tongue.
How to do Cooling Breath
- This technique can be practiced in any position but being seated comfortably with a straight back is preferable.
- Open your mouth to form the shape of an ‘O’. Close your eyes if possible.
- Stick out your tongue and curl it lengthwise as shown in the image on the left. This is Sitali. If you cannot curl your tongue you can practice Sitkari. This requires gently touching your top and bottom teeth together and opening your mouth as wide as possible.
- Breathe slowly and deeply. Doing Sitali might feel as if you are sucking cold liquid through a straw. For Sitkari you can imagine cold air rushing through a barely open window.
Doing this for a 30 seconds or more will help to regulate body heat in hot climates, after strenuous exercise or when the heat is of an internal nature. It’s also important not to underestimate the power of visualization. Imagining the cool entering your body as a cold breeze, stream or some other force can drastically increase the effectiveness of this potent breathing technique. Avoid using Cooling Breath when the air outside is already much colder than your body temperature as this may irritate the lungs.
4-7-8 Breathing Technique
The 4-7-8 breathing technique is a contemporary exercise inspired by, you guessed it, an ancient Yogic practice named Pranyama. It was created by Dr Andrew Weil, perhaps mostly with the idea of making the seemingly mystical sound modern. Aside from the fact that the exercise actually works, this is also one of the reasons it found its way on to this list! 4-7-8 breathing is perfect for moments when you need to reduce stress and anxiety, are struggling to avoid distraction or are having trouble sleeping.
How to do 4-7-8 Breathing
- Get into a comfortable seated position or lie down on your back. If seated, maintain a good straight posture.
- Rest the tip of your tongue on the upper-front palate just behind your front teeth. They should remain there for the duration of the practice.
- Part your lips and empty your lungs through your mouth. There should be a ‘whooshing’ sound as the air passes your tongue when this is done correctly.
- Close your lips (maintain tongue position) and then, using a single breath:
– Take a deep inhale for four seconds through your nose
– Hold your breath for seven seconds
– Open your lips and exhale for eight seconds, once again making a sound as the air passes your tongue.
This is one cycle.
You can do this as many times as you need. Try to focus your attention on the counts and the breath as this will lead to greater
levels of relaxation and a clearer mind.
Other Breathing Techniques
There are multitudes of amazing breathing techniques out there that can help you with all matters of mind, body and spirit. The Yogis of the East have gifted us practices such as Ujjayi Breath, Nadi Shodhana or Alternate Nostril Breathing and many more Pranayama techniques. The modern Mindfulness movement has spawned its own characteristically simple answer – Mindful Breathing.
There are systems that employ a mix of modern and ancient techniques, music and other methods of stimulation to try and attain higher states of consciousness. These include Holotropic Breathing, Soma and others. You might even decide after some practice that you want to create your own techniques or routines based on what works best for you. Combining these breathing techniques with meditation will amplify their benefits greatly. Even if you can only spare a few minutes each day, there is nothing better you can do with them than stop and breathe.