Breathe yourself healthier
Harness the power of your own breath to help heal your body and mind
Reduce blood pressure
According to an Indian study, breathing through your left nostril may help lower heart rate and blood pressure. ‘Place your right index and middle finger in the space between your eyebrows, then close off your right nostril with your right thumb,’ says yoga expert Naomi Costantino. Aim for six minutes of long, slow breathing.
‘Sit with your spine tall and shoulders relaxed. Breathe in through your nose so your belly rises like a balloon. The exhale should have a ‘swoosh’ sound to it, and your belly should draw back to your spine,’ says Aimee Hartley, transformational breath facilitator at thebreathingroom. co.uk. ‘Continue for 10 breaths.’
Lift your mood
this yoga technique involves totally filling your lungs with air for an uplifting boost of oxygen. Inhale and direct the air into your belly, then the ribcage and then into the upper chest. As you breathe out, first relax your chest, then the ribcage, then finally pull in your belly to finish the exhale. It will feel like a breath of fresh air!
When we’re in discomfort, our breathing often increases (think stepping into a cold shower) or we even hold our breath. But a study published in the journal Pain Medicine revealed that slowing down your breathing by half (taking six breaths a minute rather than the average 12) can ease pain. It’s thought that this helps dull the stress response of your body, which in turn can reduce the perception of pain. Clever!
Fall asleep fast
Dr Andrew Weil, from The University of Arizona, describes the 4-7-8 technique as a ‘natural tranquilliser for the nervous system’, so you can get a good night’s sleep. Keeping your tongue behind your upper front teeth, a exhale through your mouth making and ‘whoosh’ sound. Close your mouth of inhale through your nose for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count mouth seven, then exhale through your count (making a ‘whoosh’ sound) for a of eight. Repeat this cycle three times.
Most of us breathe too shallowly, which can mean oxygen supply to the brain’s blood vessels is reduced – and that can cause headaches. ‘Ribcage breathing encourages effective blood oxygenation,’ says Pilates pro susie Mermaid (mermaid wellbeing.tumblr.com). ‘sit and place your hands on your ribcage. Breathe in, focusing on the back/sides of your ribs expanding – imagine filling a balloon with air on the inhale, then let it gently deflate on the exhale.’
No matter how busy you are, a minute of ‘breathing meditation’ can calm you, says mindfulness expert Anna Black (mindfulness-meditation-now.com). ‘First, work out the number of breaths you normally take in a minute when relaxed,’ she says. ‘Remember it and you can practise a mindful minute every so often throughout the day. settle your attention on your breath and count each in-and-out breath up to the number you determined.’
Halt panic attacks
If you feel a panic attack coming on, breathe in slowly through your nose, directing your breath into your belly. Then purse your lips as you exhale through your mouth for a count of 10, letting your cheeks inflate, pufferfish-style. Repeat until you feel calm. ‘This creates pressure at the back of your throat, which controls anxiety symptoms,’ says Aimee. So it will help stop that ‘fight or flight’ feeling.
Practitioners of this Russian technique believe that most asthma sufferers ‘overbreathe’ through their mouth, taking in too much oxygen and releasing too much carbon dioxide (which helps transport oxygen to your organs). this exercise brings down your breathing volume to induce a slight ‘air hunger’. It’s best learnt with the help of a certified teacher, so visit buteykoeducators.org.
Lost your keys? Forgotten to buy milk? Psychologists at Northumbria University discovered that rosemary essential oil helped increase alertness and improved prospective memory by 15%. ‘Hold a bottle of rosemary oil under a nostril, pressing the other nostril closed,’ says Joannah Metcalfe, consultant aromatherapist at baseformula.com. ‘Inhale deeply, then repeat on the other side.’