Have you ever tried starting that rusty old bike that you don’t even remember being used? It doesn’t give a good mileage anymore, does it? Only if it is serviced and used regularly, will the bike perform well. Similarly, if our body muscles lack the required amount of activity, they may start dysfunctioning. ‘Health is Wealth’ is a well-known English proverb. Truly, what wealth could be greater than keeping a healthy mind and body? In a bid to remain physically and mentally healthy, regular physical exercise and dieting have become an integral part of people’s lives.
While the importance of physical exercise has been asserted time and again, is it alone enough to maintain good health? Stretching the muscles of your limbs and core helps to get in good shape, and stretching the muscles of your lungs helps to breathe better. Breathing exercises, if performed regularly along with other physical exercises are bound to assist in maintaining good health. The action of deep breathing itself has a relaxing effect on the mind.
Breathing is an involuntary action which we remain unaware of until we solely focus on it. Normal breathing which happens throughout the day and night doesn’t exercise the lung muscles thoroughly.
Contrary to common belief, breathing exercises help in maintaining overall health and not just good health of lung muscles.
Importance Of Practising Breathing Exercises
1. Respiratory Diseases At Bay
Regular breathing exercises help in maintaining and enhancing lung capacity. People who are prone to recurrent respiratory dysfunction can perform regular deep breathing exercises. Healthy individuals who do not have any history of respiratory distress will also benefit from performing breathing exercises.
2. Healthy Mind
For most people, the first response to any stressful situation is taking a deep breath. It feels relaxing, calming and rejuvenating. Some of the benefits of deep breathing include curbing anxiety, nervousness and stress by releasing certain chemicals in the blood known as endorphins.
3. Improved Blood Circulation
Regular breathing exercises enhance the capability of lungs to expand, thereby promoting better oxygenation of blood. Healthy lungs enable better heart function by controlling blood pressure. The resultant improved lung-heart coordination helps to maintain healthy blood circulation.
4. Physiological Cleansing
A lesser-known fact is that breathing is a very important mode of excreting wastes in the form of carbon dioxide. Deep breathing exercises promote rapid detoxification by clearing all the deoxygenated blood from several body systems easily. Elevated levels of energy and physical stamina are prominent deep breathing benefits.
5. Posture Maintenance
Breathing is an exercise not just for lungs but for the spine as well. Practising different breathing techniques helps to stretch the spine as well, thereby helping correct the positioning of the vertebral column. Patients undergoing treatment for correction of spinal alignment are known to benefit from regular breathing exercises.
6. Systemic Balance
Breathing techniques when practised regularly help in systemic detoxification and enhanced blood circulation. These two physiological procedures are very important for achieving the internal balance of the various body systems, which is known as homoeostasis. Homoeostasis ensures the maintenance of good health.
These are among the many benefits of practising breathing exercises regularly. However, to reap these benefits it is imperative that the exercises are practised in a particular manner. Read on to know more about the various types of breathing exercises, how to perform them and their importance.
8 Types Of Breathing Exercises
Over the years, various techniques of breathing have been developed by fitness experts, yoga trainers and doctors. The ancient Indian art of yoga teaches some of the best breathing exercises for the overall development of physical and mental health. Pranayama is the Sanskrit terminology for breathing techniques taught in yoga. Some breathing techniques that can be easily performed within the confines of home are described below:
1. Pursed Lip Breathing
- Pursed lip breathing must be performed in a relaxed position with the spine kept straight.
- Breathing in through the nostril followed by breathing out through the mouth is the correct way of performing this technique.
- While exhaling it is imperative to bring the lips close as if trying to hold a straw in the mouth. This action causes pursing of lips, hence the name.
Patients suffering from asthma, tuberculosis, chronic lung disorders and other health discomfort associated with lung diseases find relief by performing pursed-lip breathing regularly.
2. Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)
- Sit on the floor with both legs crossed and left palm placed on the left knee.
- Place the index and middle finger of the right hand at the centre of the forehead.
- Placing the right thumb on the right nostril, gently breathe out through the left nostril.
- After complete exhalation, take a deep breath through the left nostril. Close the left nostril using the right index finger and little finger and breathe out completely through the right nostril.
- 10 repetitions of this cycle are usually advised for alleviating anxiety, maintaining healthy blood circulation and respiration.
Ensure to maintain gentle breathing throughout the practise of Nadi Shodhana.
- Sit with the legs crossed and an erect back.
- Without taking a deep breath or without inhaling, air must be forced out of both nostrils in short, rapid bursts.
- Beginners may practise 20 breaths initially and gradually increase the count up to 100 or more.
Performing kapalbhati helps in dealing with digestive disorders, aids in weight loss and has a calming effect on the mind. It should be performed on an empty stomach only.
4. Diaphragmatic Breathing
- Sit cross-legged while maintaining a straight spine.
- Place the flat of one hand over your chest and the other over your stomach just below the rib cage. This posture must be maintained throughout.
- Breathe in steadily through the nose till the stomach expands, while trying to keep minimal chest movement.
- Exhale through the mouth while drawing the lips together as if trying to hold a straw.
Diaphragmatic breathing helps in maintaining healthy blood pressure, respiratory rate, aids in strengthening of core muscles and reduces chances of muscular injury. This technique may also be referred to as belly breathing.
5. Lion’s Breath (Simhasana)
- Sit cross-legged while bending forward slightly with your hands on your knees.
- Inhale completely through the nose.
- Now open your mouth and stretch your tongue trying to reach the chin.
- Exhale forcefully while making a noise that sounds like ‘ha’.
- Resume normal breathing before repeating the above steps.
Simhasana helps in alleviating anxiety, improving quality of sleep, regulating blood pressure among other things.
6. Equal Breathing (Sama Vritti Pranayama)
Equal breathing comprises inhalation and exhalation through the nose done to a numerical count. The number of counts required to inhale and those required to exhale must be the same. This technique must be practised while sitting cross-legged with a straight back. Perform this breathing technique regularly and experience several deep breathing benefits like the calmness of mind, enhanced concentration, reduction of anxiety.
7. Breath Retention (Kumbhaka Pranayama)
Breath retention emphasises on holding the breath between inhalation and exhalation.
- All the air from the lungs should be exhaled via the mouth.
- Deep breathing should be done nasally to the count of 5 to fill the lungs with air.
- After holding the breath for another 5 counts, exhalation must be done nasally for 5 counts.
The practice of breath retention helps to enhance lung functions, increase mental concentration.
8. Box Breathing
Box breathing focuses on breath control by imbibing techniques such as deep breathing and slow breathing.
- Exhale deeply via the mouth.
- Inhale through the nose and hold your breath to a count of 5. You will feel the air filling your lungs and then move to the abdomen.
- Retain the breath for the next 5 counts.
- Exhale gradually through the mouth using 5 counts only.
Depression, anxiety, panic attacks can be kept at bay with regular practice of box breathing.
Precautions For Breathing Exercises
Certain health issues may contraindicate the practice of certain types of breathing techniques. If any of the following criteria are applicable to you, do not perform breathing exercises without consulting with a doctor first:
- Pre-existing cardiac disorder
- Pre-existing lung disorder
- Pregnancy with complications
- Recent history of surgery
Practising deep breathing exercises or even normal breathing exercises regularly is advised by many doctors. This proves the efficacy of these breathing techniques. We cherish our belongings and assets with great love because we have put in a lot of effort in accumulating them. Health is the greatest and most valuable asset mankind has been gifted with. Let us cherish it equally well and work towards maintaining it.
Cleanse your physique and mind with all the goodness, positivity and energy through a regular practice of breathing exercises. Get, set, breathe!