What is your goal?
Basic breathing and optimal breathing are different. Each may have components of the other. Of the dozens, perhaps hundreds of breathing exercise versions available, there are six varieties easiest to grasp in writing. They are often very beneficial albeit rather limited expressions of optimal breathing: Emergency, Relaxing, Energizing, Balancing, Observed, Undisturbed.
AN EMERGENCY BREATH
Almost any stressful situation can be aided by extending the exhale to three or four times the length of the inhale and then letting the inhale occur by itself; including panic attacks and quite possibly heart fibrillation.
This differs from holding the breath which I am opposed to as many hold their breath too much already and controlling the inhale as it, given a supportive pelvis, trunk and neck posture allows the rib cage to expand and encourages the diaphragm to rise into the chest cavity.
The next time something stressful happens try instantly forcing out the breath and then letting the breath come in all by itself. Notice how easy the bigger inhale can be. How calming it can feel. Take the Breathing Tests. Guided Exercise
Asthmatics may benefit from this but there are better combinations having to do with extending the exhale. Breath holding is NOT one of them.
Some asthmatics and many COPD victims that I have worked with, required special assistance. The forced exhale for them can actually be harmful.
A RELAXING BREATH
Lie or sit up straight but comfortably and support your back with a pillow or other device to hold yourself erect.
Close your relaxed mouth and before you take an in-breath create an extended exhale simultaneously making a long shhhhh sound like when the steam heat comes on or if you were trying to quiet some noisy children from across the room. Keep your chin raised slightly above looking straight ahead. Then let an in-breath occur by itself and allow it to become effortlessly larger.
Exhale again making sure the exhale is as long and loud as you can. The essence of this is to extend the exhale at least twice as long as the inhale and then allow the in-breath room for “natural“ expansion.
Another version is the recorded Breathing Exercise # 1 aka The Serenity Breathing Meditation Guided Exercise. This is voice guided as well as accompanied by a world class collection of Tibetan and Himalayan “Singing” Bowls.
I had a heroin addict tell me it put him deeper into peace then did heroin. An oil company executive with three academic degrees phoned me with, “Mike, I just found myself in the slow lane on the freeway for the first time in 30 years. Thank you so much”.
ABOUT BREATH HOLDING
If it works for you great. Free divers of course do it routinely. Check out their life-span statistics and lung issues in post age 60 years. I would not continue it for an extended period of time.
A client came in very proud of his ability to hold his breath for 2 minutes. His chest was almost rock-solid. Tight chests do not breathe easily. Breath holding tightens the throat as well. While it may be beneficial in putting one more in control of one's emotions and conditioning the body to use oxygen more efficiently, it may have long range negatives of locking up the rib cage and reducing heart massage and easy breathing that is in reality a metaphor for life.
Remember, we held our breath as children to control our experience of negative feelings and emotions. Perhaps some of us have held our breath enough for this lifetime.
The Breath of Fire consists of a panting belly breath, say for 45 breaths and then a deep inhale and repeat. This can energize quite well but in the long run may restrict the diaphragm and lock up the rib cage.
Perhaps this style of breathing is some of the reason I have not heard of any American yogis living much beyond age 80. Statistically, people achieve a much greater integration of life issues resulting in practical changes from gentle breathing techniques. Studies need to occur around this.
For those that find the previous suggestions impossible, undesirable or inconvenient, perhaps one of my recorded guided breathing exercises will suffice. I created the recorded guided ones as many people will get distracted in the energy/body sensations or feeling states that the breath begins to create. The guides bring them back to the form and substance of the exercise. Quite well actually.
I have named a key recorded exercise Breathing Exercise #2 aka Tibetan Caffeine Guided exercise. It uses a breathing-specific posture, and matches spoken guided breathing patterns and internal senses with a Tibetan Singing Bowl that I computer sampled to create an incredibly inspiring and consistent cadence, or a kind of a metronome. You vary your breaths to it as you feel the need.
Interestingly enough, when done properly, the "Caffeine" will calm people down as well as energize them. It sounds illogical and may well be but as we know we can experience several emotions at the same time so can we also feel calm and energized at the same time. This can be an incredibly empowering experience.
A BRAIN HEMISPHERE BALANCING BREATH
Alternate nostril breathing. The Optimal Breathing Workbook (in progress). Use the C39 card in the Optimal Breathing kit. Do a complete set with the dominant hand and then another with the non dominant hand for two minutes each. Observe the full passive inhale and exhale.
AN “OBSERVED” BREATH
A popular form of breathing “exercise” is just watching the breath as you breathe in and out. The inhale, the exhale and the pause. If your mind starts to wander just bring it back to the inhales, exhales and pauses. If you have difficulty with this or wish a stronger element of focused concentration I recommend you try my recorded "Watching Breath" levels One and Two
Some have no pauses. The pause is where we rest. Depending on our breath rate, we breathe between 5,000 and 30,000 times a day. A life without any pauses can be highly stressful and unsatisfying.
AN UNDISTURBED BREATH
Take a walk in the woods. Let the trees and plants breathe you. The earth breathes. It expands and contracts repeatedly about two feet. Walk along the ocean, let the negative ions open the breath and invite depth and clarity.
ABOUT ABDOMINAL BREATHING
When you take a deep breath you should feel your belly expand first, then while your belly is still expanding, your chest should expand ever so slightly on the relaxed breath and much, much greater on the deep breaths.
This is tricky as those that are high chest breathers will have difficulty not breathing into the chest too much during their so called “relaxed” phase. This can over stimulate them and cause nervousness and many negative results.
For this reason a more conservative approach is to keep people in the belly breath only. But the belly breath is less then 50% of the optimal breath. For more than 50% try my guided exercise to maximize the results of abdominal breathing. This is what many call “normal”. Normal is a statistic, not a measure of health.
These “normal” people worry me, as this may send a message that that is all the breath that is available. This is far from the truth. Belly-chest hemisphere balance is the key with a dominant belly breath allowing excursion up into the chest. This takes practice and is definitely a skill that can require quite a bit of development and or a trained teacher.
Stay in the belly breath until you know how to engage the “rib” breath and to remain energized and calm.
There are many other aspects such as breathing co-ordination, passive lung expansion, breathing strengthening, and optimal breath quick releases contained in the Optimal Breathing kit.