There are many categories of breathing re-education work, and many effective exercises to help in this work. These include exercises to help us overcome breathing faults of one kind or another; exercises to promote diaphragmatic breathing, belly breathing, back breathing, box breathing and so on; exercises to open up the various breathing spaces of the body; and exercises for emotional well-being and spiritual realization.
But all such exercises are just part of the story. To actually transform our breathing and bring about a lasting change, the re-education exercises we do must be based on the laws and principles of natural breathing, and must be carried out in such a way the body/mind can either "remember" these laws or learn them anew. To gain optimal benefit from these exercises, we must learn to be conscious of their influence not just on our body, but also on our mind and emotions.
It is rather unusual to many of us in the Western world to consider the importance of breathing techniques and breathing development. After all, we are always breathing, aren't we? Doesn't it seem a little silly to put extra attention to something we do naturally? Notice your own breathing. Isn't each breath actually very shallow? Well, they may or may not be appropriate depth, balance, and ease. Like the taste of chocolate, if you have never experienced optimal depth, balance, and ease of breathing, how will you know whether you have it or not?
The magnitude of the crisis in modern medicine demands immediate and broadly pervasive consumer action to enhance health and curb medical spending. Simple but appropriate breathing development practiced vigilantly and on a daily basis, can precipitate an absolutely remarkable revolution in our personal lives as well as influence the history of human health care and medical evolution.
The presence of special breathing practices in the ancient cultures has always been a mystery to people in the Western world. There are numerous beneficial physiological mechanisms that are triggered when we turn our attention to the breath and then increase its ease, depth, volume, and balance.
When breathing volume, rate and awareness are all optimized, dramatic physiological, and even emotional, changes can occur. As it turns out, unknown to science until very recently, the action of the lungs, diaphragm and thorax are a primary pump for the lymph fluid and heart. In addition, the breath is the source for oxygen which is the key element in the body's ability to produce energy.
Sometimes the breathing exercise that seems easy is not the one that would bring you the most benefit. Just as it is easier to do pushups if you have been doing them everyday, the patterns of muscle use resulting in taking a breath that are likely to be most comfortable are the patterns you already practice in your current breathing style. To reach your long-term goal of improved breath conditioning, you need to practice all of the exercises, including the ones that are not so easy to master.
Altered states of consciousness are another huge aspect of certain breathing exercises. Under the guidance of a skilled practitioner they can be most beneficial and inconceivably powerful. I have also seen many of those altered states turn into erratic or weird behavior including what may inaccurately be classified as psychosis. A friend took a pranayama class. Spaced out and energized, he came out to drive his car and steered it in front of another car and wound up in intensive care for 8 days.
Patients and those with performance or personal development goals who have learned and used our breathing development practice as a part of their daily personal system progress more quickly, no matter what their health or performance goals.
Individuals who are well are able to remain well, adapt to greater stress, and have greater endurance when they keep a breathing development practice in their daily self-care ritual.
The breathing diaphragm is much more than a mechanical shifter of air. It is, above all, a muscle of emotional expression. Most people have had experiences of just how infectious it can be when someone nearby suddenly and spontaneously laughs or yawns. We usually laugh or yawn right along with them. Why? Because there is both a physiological and energetic response in the diaphragm that causes it to react in sympathy with what is being expressed by someone else. Singing for instance, relies on the importance of wanting to express emotion. If the diaphragm is thought of only as a pump, then such thinking will greatly diminish the function of it and limit its invaluable contribution to vocal expression. At that point one's personal vocal expressions will have to develop a breathing technique to compensate for the lack of spontaneous and reflex action in the diaphragm. Breathing exercises not respecting this are often limiting and counterproductive.
"Cautions to be judicious and respectful of breathing exercises abound in the literature on hatha yoga. And it does indeed seem from anecdotal reports of explorers in this field that the rhythm and record of our respiration resonates throughout the body. It seems to accentuate whatever is in the mind, whether it be benevolence, or malevolence, harmony or disharmony, virtue or vice. On the negative side, experienced teachers report that quirkiness of any sort, gets accentuated in students who go too far. ‘It might be an abusive streak, laughing inappropriately, speaking rudely, flightiness, twitchiness, or nervous tics. Right to left physical imbalances also become exaggerated. Unfortunately, novices often close their ears to warnings; having become addicted to their practice, they will not be denied. Competent teachers of hatha yoga will be watchful of these simple matters and wary of tutoring refractory students. Even the beginning exercises discussed in this chapter should be treated with respect.
Apart from psychological concerns, the special physiological hazards of breathing exercises is that they can cause problems without giving us traditional signals warning us against doing something harmful. In athletics, the practice of asana, experiments with diet, or just tinkering with any subject in the physical world, we depend on our senses to tell us that we are exceeding our capacity or doing something inadvisable. But breathing exercises are different. In that realm we are dealing with phenomena that our senses, or at least our untutored senses, are often unable to pick up, even though they can still affect the body. And because of this, advanced exercises should be undertaken only by those who are adequately prepared.” H. David Coulter, Anatomy of Hatha Yoga p 131.
We counsel to develop the fundamentals first. These are easy to learn, easy to apply, require no special knowledge or training, and can be practiced by most people (sick or well) daily with very little impact on time or energy. They are a great way to recharge your cellular batteries.
Here are two safe and easy breathing exercises based on optimal breathing fundamentals.
1. The Optimal Squeeze and Breathe (C5) for Calming and Centering.
Leak out the exhale and as soon as it is comfortable increase the exhale count up to 20 or more. Make sure you always have some passive effortless exhale left at the last number.
1. How did that feel? Relaxing. Energizing? Good? If it did then do it twenty five more times in a row.
Dizziness, spaceyness or otherwise confusion means you should stop and continue your day or stop and recommence in a minute or two after the energy has subsided or integrated within you.
2. A little anxiety (or a lot)?
If you felt anxious it was probably too fast for you or you did not squeeze in the right place or strongly enough and then breathe into the squeezed thumb and fingers to separate them against their will.
Try it again. this time following this breathing pattern
See the lungs below and notice how they are mostly in the sides and back and not very much in the front.
This means that it is inefficient to breathe just into the belly because the rear half of the lungs is almost twice as large as the front half.
The mid chest and lower rear lobes are where the major volume is. The back of the trunk from mid back to waist is where the lower lobes most often allow for the most expansion. But tensions in the low back restrict expansion so we must both access and challenge the area in the following way.
This is not exactly true but for now just imagine they wrap around your chest, sides, and back from the armpits to right above the bottom of your second to the lowest rib. Like a very thick short-waisted vest hanging from your collar bones.
- Promotes slower, deeper breathing.
- Finds where you feel more breathing in your body.
- Helps to hold increases in breathing.
- Helps massage and oxygenate kidneys and adrenals.
- Reduces the tendency to look for more breathing in the high chest and shoulders.
- Shoulders remain lower.
Watch the Optimal Breathing Window video so you get a better idea of the passive exhale in the Breathing Wave Exercise.
With this Optimal Breathing Window insight you get a true idea of an Abdominal Breathing Technique (ATB) as now there is enough "feel"back to do ABT properly.
Much like one needs to taste chocolate to really know what it tastes like, the OSB using the OBWindow insight gives one the proper kinesthetic/propreoceptive/sensing of optimal abdominal breathing. The more it is practiced, the more natural it will become improving the body's internal rhythm. Practice it hourly. Get up to as high a number on the exhale up to 40 but make sure you always have some passive exhale at the last number.
2. The Optimal Breathing Wave (C24)
Repeat 25 reps and a set per hour until you feel a stronger sense of calm. Allow the inhale to come in without effort.
Make sure you have an adequate healthy microbiome (Try Prescript Assist) to help offset any stress to your gut and nervous system and to help recover what you lost when done without the guidance of our Optimal Breathing Kit.