Every breath you take is essential for your survival. Breathing is the only way we get oxygen into the body so our organs can function properly. We can go on for days without water or even weeks without food; however, we cannot survive for even a few minutes without breathing. For this reason alone, correct breathing practices deserve much of our attention.
What Are Different Breathing Techniques?
Breathing therapies are currently on the rise, primarily as a form of complementary or alternative physical remedy for a wide range of health issues and conditions. For instance, Pranayama Yoga and the Buteyko breathing method are among the most popular practices that advocate the use of breathing exercises for optimum health as well as adjunctive therapy for asthma and other respiratory issues.
Below, you will find other simple but effective breathing exercises that can assist you and provide relief from the physical, mental, emotional and psychological symptoms associated with menopause.
Equal Breathing (Sama Vritti)
You can easily practice this exercise anywhere and anytime. It is similar to ‘counting sheep’ so it can be practised prior to bedtime to calm the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and stop the ‘monkey mind’. Equal breathing simply means that inhalation lasts for the same length of time as exhalation. Balance can do good to the body, beginning with the breath. To start, inhale for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four (all through the nose, which adds a natural resistance to the breath).
Abdominal Breathing Technique
This is a very effective technique to reduce stress prior to a busy period – an exam, a presentation or any nerve-racking situation – as it helps you to drop back into your body and be mindful of your emotions. With one hand on the chest and the other on the belly, take a deep breath through the nose, ensuring the diaphragm (not the chest) inflates with enough air to create a stretch in the lungs. The goal: Six to ten slow, deep breaths per minute for 10 minutes each day to experience immediate reductions to heart rate and blood pressure.
This breathing technique helps you observe the breath and body sensations to prevent muscle tension, anxiety and constricted breathing. Close the eyes and focus on tensing and relaxing each muscle group for two to three seconds each. Start with the feet and toes, then move up to the knees, thighs, glutes, chest, arms, hands, neck, jaw, and eyes – all while maintaining deep, slow breaths.
Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)
This breath is said to bring calm, balance, and unite the right and left sides of the brain. Starting in a comfortable meditative pose, hold the right thumb over the right nostril and inhale deeply through the left nostril. At the peak of inhalation, close off the left nostril with the ring finger, then exhale through the right nostril. Continue the pattern, inhaling through the right nostril, closing it off with the right thumb, and exhaling through the left nostril.
Alternate nostril breathing works best whenever it’s time to focus or energise. Legendary Ninjas were said to use this technique before they went into battle.
Breathing while being guided through calming and relaxing mental images can bring about healing. You can visualise being in a peaceful place while focusing on the stages of breath; you can even visualise the healing process taking place in your body. There are some great guided meditations available online. Guided visualisations help you drop into a place of deep breathing and relaxation to help stop any unpleasant internal dialogue.
Guided visualisation can be done pretty much in any place you can safely close your eyes and let go. Just make sure it’s not at the wheel of a car!
Skull-Shining Breath (Kapalabhati)
The skull-shining breath is a breathing technique designed to purify, invigorate, and rejuvenate both mind and body. Often regarded as a cleansing breath, this exercise helps release stress and toxins as it shakes off sluggishness and negative emotions.
To perform the skull-shining breath, sit still with the head and back straight. Lick your lips and take a deep breath in. Followed with a quick, powerful exhale generated from the lower belly. Visualise your skull filling with a bright light every time you take a deep breath (this is how the term skull-shining came about). Once comfortable with the contraction, up the pace to one inhale-exhale (all through the nose) every one to two seconds, for a total of 10 breaths.
This breathing exercise is especially effective when it’s time to wake up the brain. After performing this breathing exercise you should be feeling a little lightheaded and very alert.
What Do Breathing Techniques Do?
Stress, disappointments, frustrations, and other daily setbacks will always be there. The good news is, so will our breath. By learning the correct breathing techniques, we can bring about positive changes to our thoughts and actions. This just goes to show that mastering the art of breathing is a very important factor in healing and achieving better health.