When was the last time you actually thought about breathing? Probably the last time your doctor put a stethoscope to your chest and asked you to take a deep breath. Breathing is normal, so why even think about it? Well, paying attention to your breath — how fast, how deep — can help boost your energy, calm you down, lower your stress, and even help you feel less pain. Often called “belly breathing,” yoga’s three-part breath is one of the easiest ways to reap several different health benefits. This exercise will be most effective if you are lying on your back, either on the floor or on your bed.
Place your hands on your lower abdomen. Relax and take a couple of breaths. Just observe what happens in your body while breathing as you normally do. Now, think of taking a deep breath and expanding the area beneath your hands; it should feel as though you’re inflating a balloon deep in your belly. On the exhale, think of bringing your navel back toward your spine to empty your lungs. Feel your hands rise and fall as you inhale and exhale. Next, place one of your hands on your chest while keeping the other on your belly. Take another deep inhale and let some of that expansion reach your chest. You should feel both hands move — one on your belly, one on your chest. Exhale from your chest first, and then your belly. Repeat a couple of times and observe what happens with the movement of your body. Lastly, move the hand on your chest up above your heart. Inhale once again, this time expanding into the belly, the chest and then the upper chest. You should notice your breathing has slowed considerably, and you might even feel a bit light-headed. On the final exhale, empty your breath from the upper chest first, proceeding all the way down to your lower abdomen.
Because we don’t get air into the deepest part of our lungs, we have to breathe faster and more frequently in order to get enough. This shallow, fast breathing activates your fight-or-flight nervous system response, which can make you feel more anxious and stressed. Consciously slowing and deepening the breath turns off that stress response and leaves your mind and body feeling refreshed, calm and focused. — From Judi Bar, yoga program manager at the Cleveland Clinic, and Sally Sherwin, certified yoga instructor.
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