Breathing exercises [Pranayama]

Simple yogic breathing exercises, or pranayama, help you to deal with daily stresses and eliminate toxins from the body just as well

PranayamaOn the face of it, any simple relaxed mode of breathing looks easy. Actually, it is not.

However, the overall healthy effects of the practice are immense.

Simple breathing exercises, or pranayama, help you to deal with daily stresses. They also help you combat respiratory illness, tummy disorders, high blood pressure etc.,

Breathing is a mechanism that comes to all of us naturally. It is an indispensable part of life.

We have all seen how a new-born baby breathes, even though babies do not know anything about breathing!

But, as we grow up we don’t breathe like a baby. We breathe differently. When a baby breathes, it automatically fills up its abdomen and ribs. Like a tiny inflated balloon.

Breathing in this manner has a positive effect on our parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system, as you may know, is responsible for correcting the “dents” caused by our daily battles with stress.

It’s all in your rhythm

Yes, you can get your breathing rhythm back like the way you started. That is, when you were a baby.

But, before that, it would be useful for us to know what breathing is all about. Also, what type of breathing represents your current “identity.”

  • Low or abdominal breathing. This relates to breathing with the diaphragm and abdominal muscles. As you breathe in, your abdomen extends. As you breathe out, it deflates [This is best illustrated by the breathing mechanism of a baby. Another example is pregnancy]
  • Middle breathing. With each breath you take, the lower ribs expand forward and also to the sides. Just place your fingers on your ribs and breathe. You will see your fingers move
  • High or upper chest breathing. This is a typical smoker’s way of breathing. It is composed of short, rapid, shallow breaths. This is not a good way of breathing.

Getting it right

There is one best way of relearning deep breathing – the breath of babies. Lie down on the floor; that is on your back. This is relatively easy. It is not as difficult as practicing breathing while sitting on a chair.

As you lie down, relax for a couple of minutes. Place one hand on your abdomen. Place the other on the lower rib.

Now, fill up your abdomen with your breath. Keep your mouth closed. Remember to breathe through your nose.

Make yourself aware of your breathing.

What do you notice immediately? That you have not practiced breathing, in this manner for as long as you can remember. You have also not tried to control your abdominal muscles at all!

Focus on the image of a balloon. Remember when you were a baby, or seen babies, including your own, breathing?! Now, inflate your breath from your abdomen and into your ribs.

This is quite identical to the gush of air filling you up. That is, from your abdomen through the ribs and into your chest.

Control your breath at this point. However, breathe slowly as you inhale. Hold your breath for a brief moment [before you exhale].

Count up to 10, as you inhale. Hold for 5-10 counts. Exhale slowly to 10 counts. [Note: For those having high blood pressure, holding your breath for long, is not recommended].

Return slowly to the point where you began. Relax for a few minutes. Get back to work, chore, activity etc.

First Steps

Pranayama – in spite of its simplicity — is sometimes physically, emotionally, and mentally challenging. You’d also think that you need to be in good mental frame to practice, or do, it. No, not at all.

While it is recommended that you learn the tradition from a yoga teacher, it all depends on how you evolve yourself with the practice. The more you evolve, the better it is for your health, wellbeing, and spiritual evolution. So, make it work for you.

  • You’d do well to think that pranayama is not goal-oriented. You need not set a goal!
  • Pranayama need not be always focused; think of it as a relaxed practice
  • Remember – you need to focus on the process, not on the result
  • You need to learn, and know, your own self. In other words, yourself!
  • It is always ideal for you to enrol in a beginner’s class to learn the basics; you may add advanced breathing techniques later
  • You should learn to listen to your body and set your own pace
  • Most important. Pranayama is your own journey. You are not doing it for someone else!

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Rajgopal Nidamboor
Dr Rajgopal Nidamboor, a trained physician, is a writer, commentator, and author. In a career spanning 25 years, Nidamboor has published over 2,000 articles, on a variety of subjects, two coffee table books, an E-book, and a primer on therapeutics, aside from an encyclopaedic treatise on Indian philosophy.


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