Stressed Out? Take a Deep Breath

Anyone who’s taken a yoga class knows that instructors emphasize proper breathing techniques just as much as they emphasize postures. Yogic breathing techniques are not just about helping you relax. Proper breathing can actually enhance your health and contribute to well being and longevity.

Proper breathing is essential to yoga and has its roots in the earliest pranayama traditions. The most fundamental breathing technique used in yoga is the Dirga breath – a slow yoga breath, which encourages practitioners to use their lungs to their fullest capacity. Dirga breath is performed in three stages: breath first fills the bottom of the lung, expands to the middle, then completely fills up to the top of the lung before exhaling.

The key is to expand the diaphragm, the muscle membrane that separates the chest from the abdominal cavity. Properly engaged, the diaphragm works to push large amounts of blood throughout the body, taking pressure and stress off the heart.

When we’re young, we naturally breathe slowly and deeply from our diaphragms. But as adulthood stress catches up with us, our breathing can become fast and shallow. In fact, some scientists estimate that, on average, we only use about 20 percent of our available lung capacity. This means that our body isn’t able to optimally distribute oxygen-rich blood and health problems ranging from depression to heart disease to poor sleep patterns can result.

Learning to breathe properly won’t just help your yoga practice; it will help your overall health and well being. For example, researchers at the National Institutes of Health have found that several minutes of slow yoga breathing daily can significantly help lower high blood pressure. Not only does it calm the body and mind, but your kidneys also get a boost because slow breathing helps break down salt in the blood – all beneficial for keeping blood pressure low.

Poor circulation, also related to high blood pressure, gets some relief from slow yoga breathing, as well. Poor circulation does more than make those hands and feet cold. When blood doesn’t flow well, infection-fighting white blood cells can’t as easily reach and contain bacterial infections, cancer cells, viruses, and other illnesses. Slow breathing, however, can completely restore circulation to optimum levels.

Dedicating part of your fitness routine to breathing properly is a good investment in your health. You can do it anywhere, and best of all, it’s free. Sit quietly, slow down your breath, and pay attention to the effects in has on your mind and body. See what the fewest number of breaths is that you can take in a minute. You can do this as part of a daily routine or when you feel stressed out or anxious. You’ll be amazed at the results!

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