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.
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.
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
Prana means ‘ vital force ‘ and Ayama means ‘ control ‘ in Sanskrit. Thus Pranayama means the control of the vital force through concentration and regulated breathing. By means of controlled breathing that is, inhaling and exhaling by holding the breath for a fixed time and changing the rhythm of inspiration and expiration, it is possible to influence the life-force in the body. Pranayama is the process by which such conscious control is achieved through controlled and rhythmical breathing .
Pranayama purifies the channels along which the life stream of ‘prana’ flows in the body and prevents various disorders. It increases one’s resistance to respiratory diseases. The best position in which to practice pranayama is the padmasana or lotus pose.
If for some reason that position is difficult to adopt, it can be done while sitting in any comfortable pose. The important thing is to keep the back, neck and head in a straight line. The body should be in its natural relaxed condition and this can be achieved by resting a few minutes in shavasan. If necessary, use your right finger and thumb on either side of the nose to control the right and left nostrils during inhalation and exhalation.
In practicing pranayama, a ratio of two to one should be maintained throughout, that is, the exhalation time should be double that required for inhalation. For instance, if inhalation takes 5 seconds, exhalation should take 10 seconds. Both inhalation and exhalation should be smooth and quiet.
Some varieties of pranayama beneficial in the treatment of common ailments are as follows :
This is also known as Nadishuddhi pranayama. Sit in any comfortable meditative pose, keeping your head,neck and spine erect. Rest your left hand on your left knee. Close your right nostril by pressing the tip of your right thumb against it. Breathe out slowly through the left nostril. Inhale slowly and deeply through the left nostril, keeping the right nostril closed. Close your left nostril with the little finger and ring finger of your right hand and exhale through the right nostril. Then inhale through the right nostril, keeping the left nostril closed and, lastly, exhale through the left nostril, keeping the right nostril closed.
This completes one round of anuloma-viloma. Repeat the entire process. Inhaling and exhaling should be done very slowly, without making any sound. This pranayama is a process of purification. It strengthens the lungs and calms the nerves. It helps cure cough and cold, insomnia, chronic headache and asthma.
Sit in any comfortable meditative pose. Inhale slowly, deeply and steadily through both nostrils with a low uniform sound through the glottis. Hold your breathe for a second or two after inhaling and then exhale noisily only through the left nostril, keeping the right nostril closed. Do this as often as required.
This pranayama clears the nasal passage and helps the functioning of the thyroid gland and benefits respiratory disorders, especially bronchitis and asthma. Persons suffering from high blood pressure should not practice ujjayi.
‘Bhastrika’ means ‘bellows.’ It is performed by instant and quick expiration of breath. There are many varieties of bhastrika. The simplest technique is as follows :
Sit in padmasana. Do 20 strokes of kapalbhati. Inhale and exhale rapidly, making a puffing sound. This is a good exercise for abdominal viscera and lungs.
Sit in padamasana or any other comfortable posture. Stick your tongue out about an inch from the lips, rolled up at the sides to form a channel like a bird’s beak. Suck in air through the channel. After a full inhalation, slowly close your mouth, hold your breath and exhale slowly through both nostrils. This completes the exercise. Repeat as required.
This pranayama cools the body and mind, activates the liver and bile and has beneficial effects on the circulation and body temperature.
In sitkari a sound is produced while inhaling by opening the mouth a little, placing the tip of the tongue against the lower front teeth and then sucking the air in slowly. After holding your breath, exhale through both nostrils. This exercise helps to control thirst, hunger and laziness.
‘Surya-nadi ‘ is the right nostril and ‘ChandraNadi’ is the left nostril. In this pranayama, one always uses the right nostril for inhalation. Sit in padmasan or any other suitable posture. Keep your head, neck and back straight. Inhale through the right nostril. Hold your breath and then exhale through the left nostril. Hold your breath and then exhale through the left nostril. Repeat as often as required.
This pranayama increases gastric juices and helps digestion. It also fortifies the nervous system and clears the sinuses.
In this pranayama, the buzzing sound of a bee is produced and hence it is called bhramari. Keep your mouth closed while inhaling. Exhale through both nostrils, producing the humming sound of a bee. This pranayama affects the ears, nose, eyes and mouth and makes the complexion glow. It also helps those suffering from insomnia.
The Yoga Therapy or ‘ yoga-chikitsa’ refers to the treatment of diseases by means of yogic exercises which may be physical or mental or both. It is a specialized form of yogic culture. This mode of treatment has been practiced in India from very ancient times. Many references to yoga have been made in the Upanishads. It was, however, Maharishi Patanjali who in about the first century B.C. gave a systematic account of the traditional yogic teaching.
The term ‘ Yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘yug’ which means “to join” . It signifies union between the individual soul (jivatma) and the universal soul (parmatma). It aims at obtaining relief from pain and suffering. Basically, human evolution takes place on three different planes, namely physical, mental and spiritual. Yoga is a means of attaining perfect health by maintaining harmony and achieving optimum functioning on all three levels through complete self-control.
Yogic kriyas, asanas and pranayama constitute the physical basis of yoga. More information about them can be found here:
The practice of kriyas and asanas leads to excellent circulation. It also energizes and stimulates major endocrine glands of the body. Yogic exercises promote inner health and harmony, and their regular practice helps prevent and cure many common ailments. They also help eliminate tensions, be they physical, mental or emotional.
Pranayama slows down the ageing process. In ordinary respiration, one breathes roughly 15 times a minute, taking in approximately 20 cubic inches of air. In pranayama the breathing rate is slowed down to once or twice a minute and the breath inhaled is deep and full, taking nearly 100 cubic inches of air.
All yogic exercises should be performed on a clean mat, a carpet or a blanket covered with a cotton sheet. Clothing should be light and loose-fitting to allow free movement of the limbs. The mind should be kept off all disturbances and tensions. Regularity and punctuality in practicing yogic exercises is essential. Generally, 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. is the ideal time for yoga practices.
Asanas should always be practiced on an empty stomach. Shavasana should be practiced for a brief period before starting the rest of the exercises as this will create the right mental condition. Asanas should be performed at a leisurely slow-motion pace, maintaining poise and balance.
Yoga asanas and pranayama techniques are greatly enhanced if you have the help of a competent teacher.
Bone Breathing is the ancient Taoist tradition that brings forth good health and reduced stress. While you might not have heard of bone breathing before it is something that could really benefit you. It is something many have practiced throughout the years and is exactly what it sounds like it would be.
Bone breathing is basically a process in which someone breathes as deeply as possible in the hopes of it actually reaching their bones. There are several different methods to this and not all are going to work for everyone, you have to find the one that works best for you. This is an ancient practice that can relieve you of stress and is thought to benefit the health of those who partake.
How To Practice Bone Breathing:
The bone breathing technique allows us to ingest large amounts of this vital energy or ‘prana’. We can use this energy to stay healthy, get motivated, strengthen our sense of purpose, and generally become more powerful.
Before you begin this exercises I suggest that you consult your Doctor; if you suffer from high blood pressure, heart problems, or are at risk for aneurysms, then I suggest you talk to him before you start.
In order to begin let us imagine that the air around you and the air that fills up your lungs is actually a kind of light, you can think of this vital energy as a type of vapor or gas that is slightly thicker than the typical air around you. With this imaginative construction in mind, try to fill your lungs completely from bottom to top, just like the glass fills with water. Then try to empty out your lungs completely, just like a glass, from top to bottom. This is correct breathing and how you should be breathing all the time.
Keep that imaginative construction of the vital vapor or “prana’ in mind, it will teach you how to begin to use this ‘prana’ properly and will allow you to develop your own imaginative ideas on how to move this force through your body. I am certain that you will feel incredibly revitalized after breathing like this for a while.
In order to do bone breathing, you must begin to channel this vital energy throughout your body. Bone breathing is mostly concerned with sucking in that vital energy through different parts of the body and is therefore used while inhaling.
To begin imagine that you are breathing through the bones in your arms; think of your arm bones as being giant sponges that suck in the vital ‘prana’ through the force of your inhale. As you do this you can imagine that there is a bit of resistance because the bones in your arms are thicker and therefore harder to breathe through than your throat. Imagine sucking in the vital energy through your arm bones and filling your lungs from bottom to top just like before.
When your lungs are completely filled, you can exhaled in a quick sigh and either stop there or begin to inhale again and repeat the process.
If you have done this correctly, your arms should feel almost tingly, your blood pressure will have gone up, and you will feel more alert and energized. Now try to do the same breathing through the bones of your legs. Do this for about 10 breaths and relax for a while.
Try next to do 10 breaths through the bones on your back and then take a break for a little while. Try 10 breaths through the bones in your skull and take your brake. Finally, try to do this breath technique by breathing in through every pore in your body for 10 breaths. After this completed routine you should feel amazingly strong, and light as a feather. Keep practicing and developing your technique; the key is to combine your imagination and your breathing in order to be able to suck up huge quantities of this vital energy that is all around you.
Basically, this technique allows you to get rid of all of the negative energies surrounding you and bring forth positivity. It is something that we should all do several times each day or at least five times a week if possible. If you are a person that tends to hold onto stress this might really make a big difference for you. Taoist masters even believed this could regenerate bone marrow.
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