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Are you breathing right?

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BREATH OF LIFE Pranayama helps calm the mind and relax the body
BREATH OF LIFE Pranayama helps calm the mind and relax the body

We worry about erratic pulse rates and ECGs but not about the way we breathe, says HEMA VIJAY

It is so crucial to life that we should be paying more attention to it, but strangely, we don’t. We worry about erratic pulse rates and ECGs, but not about whether we breathe right. Most of us do not maximise on our breathing potential. But master the art of breathing and you will be rewarded with improved concentration, creativity, boundless energy, physical harmony, mental composure and serenity!

Abdomen aesthetics

We can learn the right way of breathing from babies! Surprised? “That’s because, unlike adults, they aren’t inhibited. Even adults breathe harmoniously when they sleep,” says Dr. N Chandrasekaran, director, therapy, Krishnamachari Yoga Mandiram (KYM).

When you inhale the right way, the dome-shaped diaphragm (located just under our lungs) gets flattened and pushed down, which in turn pushes the upper abdomen out. “Many of us consider abdominal projection unsightly and, therefore, draw in our tummies (abdomen) when we breathe in. This curtails vertical expansion of the lungs and allows us to draw in only about half the air we would have inhaled, had we breathed normally. It also creates a tightness in the area, which can make you emotionally tense too,” says Dr. Chandrasekaran. “For a healthy life, abdominal breathing is critical and about 60 per cent of our bodily ailments can be healed when we correct the way we breathe. Deep breathing can cause a noticeable fullness in the upper abdomen, which is healthy, and indicative of a relaxed abdomen, body and mind. But the lower abdomen should never bulge out, he adds.

Allopaths, such as Dr. Raj B. Singh, chief respiratory physician, Apollo Hospitals, however, feel most of us breathe normally and our body will automatically take in the volume of air it requires. “But breathing exercises calm the mind and allow the body to work better,” he agrees, adding, “Breathing exercises are important for obese persons and smokers, as it clears the collapsed airways in their lungs.” Aerobic exercises (without weight lifting), such as swimming and vigorous games, facilitate deep breathing and better blood circulation.

Ideally, we should take in about 16 to 18 breaths per minute. Get into a comfortable, lying down position, which relaxes your abdominal muscles, and watch how you breathe. Now place your right hand on your chest and observe the movement. Let your exhalations and inhalations be as deep and as long as you are comfortable with. Allow your upper abdomen (above the umbilicus region) to bulge out during inhalation. “Practise this for about 15 minutes in the morning and evening, and the effect will soon spill over into your breathing pattern throughout the day,” says Dr. Chandrasekaran.

Anger control and relaxation

If you have a harmonious breathing pattern, it harmonises your physiological systems. Emotionally, it makes you relaxed and composed.

Deep breathing with slow release or exhalation followed by a gentle holding of breath leads the brain into the creative alpha state, brain power trainers believe.

Focussed, long inhalation can energise you. So, the next time you feel sleepy in the office, take a deep breath. Likewise, if you feel tense and stressed, focus on exhalation and make it as long as you are comfortable with.

Helps you calm down

When your mind is anxious, agitated, or angry, you tend to hyperventilate and your systolic blood pressure and heart beat rate shoots up. “By consciously slowing your breathing, and breathing deeply, you can bring your breathing to normal. This brings the agitated mind too back to normal and quietens it,” says Dr. Shanthi Raj, Sundaram Medical Foundation.

On the contrary, during panic/anxiety attacks, she suggests breathing into paper bags for about two minutes, wherein you take in more carbon dioxide into your blood. This vaso-dilates the brain and helps you calm down.

Breathing is the rationale behind meditation, pranayama and other techniques which are supposed to empower the mind. “The normal nature of the mind is to move from object to object. Focussed breathing enhances the mind’s focus, makes it powerful and prepares it to fix its attention on a single thing,” says Dr. Chandrasekaran.

To breathe well is to live well, believed our ancient yogis, some of whom survived for days on just breath and without food or water. Whew! Take a breather!

TAKE A BREATHER

Let your inhalation and exhalation be as long and as deep as you are comfortable with.

Don’t draw in your tummy while inhaling. Allow your upper abdomen to jut out while inhaling.

Inhale deeply to refresh/energise yourself.

Exhale deeply to relax and calm yourself.

Practise breathing exercises such as pranayama for a few minutes everyday.

Aerobic exercises enhance breathing and blood circulation.

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