It's not often that we think about breathing. It happens automatically so we tend to take it for granted, and in an average day you can take between 17,000 and 23,000 breaths. Most of us, almost all of the time, tend to take short, ineffective breaths, using only our upper chest.
Trouble with this is that it doesn't clear the excess carbon dioxide in our lungs and leaves us feeling tired. This type of breath is called chest breathing, as only your chest contracts and expands. This is the flight or fight breath and keeps your nervous system on edge.
Ideally, we should be having diaphragmatic breathing. This is where you take a full breath, so deep the diaphragm moves downwards, while your tummy moves out. This is the parasympathetic breath, when your body feels at rest.
In the way we work our body in yoga postures (asanas), we work our breath in pranayama. Just as we want our bodies to be strong and flexible in the physical practice, we want our breath to have the same agility.
So, this is a quick and easy 10-minute sequence to regulate your breathing, which will help you calm down, realign and reset.
1. Even breaths
Sit comfortably. Either against a wall or on a chair. Relax your shoulders and neck. Take a yawn or two before you begin. Take a deep breath through your nose and a slow exhale through your nose. Do this a few times, focusing on slowing down your breath and listening to the sound it makes. Once you are settled, take a count of four breathing in, and a count of four breathing out. Do this for three minutes, which is about 30 rounds.
2. 1:2 ratio breath
As the breathing becomes more gentle, start to change the breath rate to inhaling for four, and exhaling for eight (both through your nose). Don't rush this process. Go gently. If you find you are forcing or it feels too much, try breathing in for three and out for six. Try to find a count that allows you to stay calm but have a long exhale. Do this for two minutes, which is about 20 rounds.
As you find yourself getting settled into a rhythm, begin this technique. Breathe in for four (all through the nose), hold your breath in for four and then exhale for eight. Again, if this feels too strong, in for three, hold for three, out for six. There should be no strain just a sense of focus on the breath. Do 20 rounds.
Gently lie down, place a pillow underneath your knees and allow the body to spread out against the earth. Take your hands onto your belly so you can feel the movement of the diaphragm to ensure you are breathing diaphragmatic breaths. Allow the body to completely relax. For this exercise, breathe in for four, hold in for four, exhale for four, and hold the breath out for four. As before, if too strong, reduce the number but keep the breath even all the way through. Take 20 rounds just focusing on going gently and peacefully.
5. Take rest
Gradually allow your mind to drift and body to drop more, release the control of your breath. Allow the inhale and exhale to get softer, drift into savasana and allow yourself to simply let go.
These breath exercises will not only give your energy a boost, but will also give you a wonderful sense of calm. Best done at the start or the end of the day, when the world is a little quieter.
Edited by Body and Soul.
Martine loves combining breath work and movement, and her classes are a balanced mix of challenging poses and relaxation techniques. She has been practicing yoga since 1995 and started teaching in 1999. Martine originally trained in Iyengar under Anna Prior and later trained in Hatha before discovering her love of Ashtanga.