If you have ever been in a yoga class, you have probably been told throughout practice to come back to your breath. Correct breathing techniques can reduce anxiety, give energy, provide mental stimulation and perhaps even extend life. There is a simple exercise that can reveal your breathing style.
Lie on your back. Close your eyes and place one hand on your stomach and one on your chest. Take a deep inhale. Notice how and when your stomach and chest rises and falls.Repeat this exercise on the exhale. Take note of your mood and where and how your mind wanders.
Chances are, you are not breathing “correctly”. Correct breath is like filling and deflating a balloon. Try the same exercise as above, but direct your breath this time. Begin counting and imagine filling the bottom of your stomach with air and allowing that air to move to the top of your stomach and slowly expanding to your chest. Pause and squeeze air slowly from the top of your chest through the top of your stomach to the bottom of your stomach. Try to make the exhalation last one count longer than the inhalation.
You may notice a difference in how you feel with the second exercise. Deep, correct breath activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation and digestion. The sympathetic nervous system is associated with shallow breath and forces the body to go into “fight or flight” mode. This subtle change in breathing can be a valuable tool for treating anxiety attacks, depression and fighting a mid-afternoon slump. Ayurveda suggests that forcing exhales to be longer than inhales even extends lifespan!