Breathing ~ The Key To Healing

The health that you enjoy today, and for the rest of your life, begins with your next breath. In fact, breathing is so crucial to your body’s ability to heal and sustain itself that Dr. Andrew Weil says: “If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly.”

Here, we will learn a breathing technique that Dr. Weil uses in his own life: “the most powerful relaxation technique” that he has come across and one that he teaches to almost all of his patients. Dr. Weil reports that breathing exercises get more favorable response from patients than anything else he teaches.

To learn the art of healthy breathing, Dr. Weil turned to Eastern traditions, including yoga, which view the breath as a vital link to the prana, or energy of the universe. In his practice and research, Dr. Weil discovered the secret of breathwork’s power over your health and its remarkable ability to influence—and even reprogram—the nervous system. From increasing energy to lowering blood pressure to improving circulation to beating anxiety disorders without drugs, breathwork offers tremendous benefits to our health and well-being.

How to Prepare for Breathwork

Try to find a quiet place with no distractions. Pick a comfortable chair to sit in, and keep your back straight. Make sure your head is in a comfortable position. You can close your eyes or keep them open (or halfway open).

It’s best if you can practice the following breathwork technique daily. Find times in the day when this practice feels natural and logical and when you will not be interrupted—and make a resolution to do it at those times. The amount of time you spend on this work is not important, but regularity is. Only with constancy of input over time can you change the rhythms in your nervous system for better health.

Throughout the exercise, keep your tongue in the “yogic” position. Touch the tip of the tongue to the backs of the upper front teeth, and then slide it up just a bit, until it is lightly touching that ridge of hard tissue between the teeth and the palate (the alveolar ridge). Yoga philosophy teaches that there are two nerve currents of opposite polarity in the human body that begin and end at those points. When you make that connection with the tongue, it’s said that you’re completing a circuit and keeping the energy of breath within instead of dissipating it to the outside.

The Relaxing Breath

The Relaxing Breath is the most powerful relaxation method I know, and one that I teach to almost every patient I work with. You may feel a little lightheaded when doing it for the first time, but the sensation will disappear as you practice this breath regularly.

Inhale through your nose quietly and exhale through your mouth noisily, exhaling around your tongue (it helps if you purse your lips). The sound you make when you exhale is a kind of whoosh. Try that a few times so that you get comfortable with exhaling through your mouth and around your tongue.

Begin the Relaxing Breath by exhaling through your mouth completely. Then inhale quietly through your nose to a count of four, hold your breath for a count of seven, and exhale through your mouth for a count of eight. Repeat that for a total of four breath cycles (you will find that this takes very little time). What is important here is the ratio of four, seven, and eight for inhalation, hold, and exhalation, respectively. The amount of time you spend doing the four breath cycles is not as important as that ratio.

Your exhalation must last for a count of eight, so resist the temptation to blow it all in the first two seconds. Let out a slow, measured breath; then repeat the cycle again. At the end of four breath cycles, just breathe normally without trying to influence the breath, and notice how you feel.

To reap the long-term benefits of the Relaxing Breath, do a minimum of four breath cycles twice a day. After a month, you can increase the number of cycles to eight, twice a day—but never do more than eight breath cycles. This is a very powerful technique, and it has profound effects on physiology.

After you have worked with this exercise for some time, you can begin to use it in a variety of ways. If something upsets you—for example if somebody speaks to you harshly or cuts you off in traffic—do the Relaxing Breath before you react. It is also the most effective anti-anxiety technique I know.

Abdominal Breathing

Finally, I would like to leave you with one very powerful tip which will allow you to maximize self-healing through breathwork. In order to take the fullest kind of breath, you have to do what is called “abdominal breathing”: that is, when you take a deep breath, your belly should move outward. To find out whether this is happening, just put your hand on your abdomen and see whether it moves outward as your belly expands.

Many of us do not let our abdomen expand freely as we breathe. We restrict those muscles, and as a result are unable to take a full, deep breath. So another general tip about breathing is to practice just taking some deep breaths and letting your belly move outward. Only when that movement occurs are you taking the full volume of air into your lungs that you are capable of taking in.

Conclusion

If today you can be aware of breathing for ten seconds more than you were yesterday, you will have taken a measurable step toward expanded consciousness; deeper communication between mind and body; and integration of your physical, mental, and spiritual functions. I can recommend no single more powerful—or more simple—daily practice to further your health and well-being.

From Breathing: The Master Key to Self-Healing by Andrew Weil, MD

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