Check in with your breath
By Nancy B. Loughlin
Published in News Press on April 2, 2013. Published with permission.
To yogis, the breath carries prana, the essence of life. But terrific breathing is also connected to health, happiness, and longevity.
1. Become a belly breather. Six-pack abs may be sexy, but a sucked-in stomach traps short breaths in the upper chest. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing slows the breath, opens the abdominal wall, stretches the rib cage and increases lung capacity. When sitting in traffic, attempting to sleep, or waiting in line, practice inhaling and inflating the belly like a balloon. Exhale, and push all the air out of your nose, pulling your belly to your spine. Deep breathing has been shown to help reduce fatigue and anxiety, cut stress, lift the mood, lower cholesterol and reduce pain.
2. Breathe only with your nose. Not only does nose breathing filter, warm, and moisten the inhalation, it’s also a reminder of when you’ve lost control. While working out, the breath should remain steady through the nose, and you should be able to hold a conversation. Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga, is clear that during physical activity, we should only be working to 50% of our capacity. Competitive marathoners are typically operating at 75%. Exercise should energize you, not drop you into a quivering pile of jelly.
3. Speaking of noses, get a Neti pot, and breathe free. This watering can for your nose, another gift of Ayurveda, is used to flush pollutants and excess mucus in your nose. The Neti pot is famous for relieving symptoms of sinusitis and allergies.
4. Not just when you exercise but whenever you move, synchronize your body with the breath. Inhale when you rise, stretch, and lengthen. Exhale when you lower, compress, or shorten. Engage each move with deliberate intention, and be mindful of every sensation. Inhale as you reach for the top shelf; exhale as you bend to the carpet. Ordinary life just became a meditative practice.
5. The best way to oxygenate your body is to strengthen your heart. Walk daily, even when you could drive. Thirty minutes of swimming, cycling, running or even ten minutes of sun salutations will benefit your heart. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes per week for moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity.