This might be the easiest, yet most powerful, health tip that exists–BREATHE.
Ok, ok….we realize you breathe every second of everyday without even thinking….but HOW are you breathing? For many of us, the breathing we do a lot of the time is shallow “chest breathing.” Shallow breathing doesn’t take full advantage of our trusty diaphragm which wants to help the lower portion of our lungs–which is where many small blood vessels instrumental in carrying oxygen to cells reside–get their full share of oxygenated air. Without this exchange you can feel short of breath and anxious.
Deep abdominal, pranayama breathing encourages full oxygen exchange. This type of breathing slows the heartbeat and can lower blood pressure. Diaphragmatic breathing is also known to stimulate the vagus nerve which can help lower stress responses associated with “fight-or-flight” mechanisms.
Pranayama is a Sanskrit word which literally translates into “extension of the prana or breath”. ‘Prana’ means life-force or vital energy. The physical manifestation of “prana’ is breath and ”ayama” means to extent or draw out the breath.
Pranayama exercises have the ability to quickly increase our energy, release stress, reduce brain fog, boost mood and improve our physical health. I also feel like breathing exercises help my posture because in order to really activate my diaphragm to fill my belly with air, I usually need to sit taller and put my shoulders back to create space for the breath.
There are several different pranayama exercises to play with but one super easy one to try is:
- Inhale with a natural breath, filling the belly and pause.
- Hold the breath, not to the point of discomfort or struggle, but long enough to settle into the stillness.
- Exhale the natural breath and pause.
- Hold the breath, notice the stillness.
- Repeat for up to 5 minutes.
- Bonus step: Try to notice if you can slightly increase the lengths of the pauses with daily practice.
Practicing pranayama breathing just 5 minutes each day can help us be really in tune with how we are breathing which can provide information about how we are living.
BTW, this is a great practice to teach kids too!