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Are you breathing right?

Deep breathing is the easiest way to calm yourself. But many of us don't do it right. Ruchira Hoon tells you how.

health-and-fitness Updated: Jan 21, 2008 18:19 IST
Ruchira Hoon
Ruchira Hoon
Hindustan Times

Inhale. Exhale. That's the mantra banker Vaibhavi Anand follows every time she gets angry.

Not only does breathing consciously help her keep her temper in check (she has a problem controlling it), it also gives her enough time to do a reality check and take stock of the cause of her anger or stress.

This formula works wonders for management trainer Natasha Sridhar too. She takes a few deep breaths before she heads out tomake presentations and says it puts her at her ease every time. <b1>

"Once I've calmed my jittery nerves by inhaling and exhaling deeply a couple of times, the task on hand is a breeze," she says. "And if in the middle of it, I begin to get wound up again, I just breathe deeply!"

For you too, it could be as simple as that. Deep breathing has benefits that can not only help you heal mentally and spiritually but keep you in good health too.

It doesn't matter what situation you are in, a couple of deep breaths, and you'll be as good as new.

Goodness of Air
An act that we do almost 20,000 times a day, breathing is an unconscious exercise for many of us. "Breathing oxygenates every cell of your body, from your brain to your vital organs. Without sufficient oxygen, your body becomes more susceptible to health problems," says respiratory expert Dr Sanjay Mehrotra.

"It raises the levels of oxygen in the blood, promoting health in many ways - from stimulating the digestive process to improving fitness and mental performance.

"But, he adds, that's only if you breathe correctly. The key is to take deep, not shallow, breaths. Now, many of us think we breathe deeply - we suck in our bellies and raise our shoulders while taking a big gulp of air. But this technique is incorrect.

When you do this, you are actually taking in shallow breaths. "Most of us mistake this for breathing correctly," says Monika Mirchandani, an Art of Living expert.

"This can lead to severe strain on the vocal chords and can lead to exhaustion as well. You can even get catches in your ribs and aches and pains in different parts of the body."<b2>

Not shallow but deep
So what is the right way to breathe deeply ? Experts believe that the right way involves filling in your lungs deeply. "For making the most of deep breathing, you should breathe only through the nose. Lower the diaphragm muscle by expanding the abdomen," says Swami Ramdev.

"This way the lungs elongate and the air expands all around." It is also important to do it slowly. In her book, The Art of Breathing, author Nancy Zi describes the process of deep breathing: "When you inhale, imagine a blossom opening within your abdomen; when you exhale, the blossom closes," she says.

"The more you breathe, the more you stimulate your senses and the more you become in control of yourself.

"It is ideal if the length of the inhalation and exhalation are approximately the same. While it's important to breathe through the diaphragm, many misinterpret deep breathing as breathing quickly. That could lead to hyperventilation."

Fast, shallow breaths

Breathe easy
That the brain needs a constant supply of clean, oxygen-rich blood to think clearly. Your muscles need it for vitality and your digestive system needs it to utilise the food yo u eat and to get rid of waste products.

"If you need to stimulate yourself, you should breathe in for a long period of time. If you want to calm yourself, breathe out for a longer time." <b3>

You should breathe only through your nostrils and maintain an equilibrium in the amount you inhale and exhale. "Often, people, especially women, forget to breathe. This is because they are so preoccupied doing chores or working, that they actually hold their breath till they complete the task. Don't do this.

Similarly, capacity exercise expel the carbon dioxide inside the body rather quickly and can actually lead to a lower consumption of oxygen,” says Dr Mehrotra.

“The key then is to simply slow down and let the air fill you completely.” This technique of deep breathing is what actually helps people relax.

Slower, rhythmic, deep breathing helps harmonise the nervous system and deal with stressful thoughts and actions. “And the best part is that it just takes a couple of moments and is truly a very simple exercise,” says Vaibhavi Anand.

In control
In the West, the power of deep breathing is categorised under alternative medicine. Here, the concept of Pranayama , a breathing technique, is a traditional practice that is being revived by spiritual gurus like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Swami Ramdev who believe correct breathing can help the mind become tranquil. <b4>

“Breathing can give you freedom from negative thoughts and helps remove toxins from the body,” says Swami Ramdev. “Freedom from negative thinking is achieved through this and the mind develops the habit of positive and constructive thinking.”

Altering your breathing pattern can alter your mood instantly. But it’s also essential to be conscious of your breath. “The more aware you are of your breath, the easier it will to understand where the actual tension is in your body,” says Mirchandani.

“Taking long deep breaths, both in and out, while relaxing the belly, is an ideal way to get control of your emotions.”

Whether you are afraid, stressed or uneasy, breathing can help you balance these emotions. Deep breathing has a relaxing effect on the sympathetic part of the nervous system that triggers an adrenaline rush when you’re frightened, angry or stressed.

“This is because when you allow yourself to breathe out in a long, controlled manner without pausing, it helps the mind focus,” says Mirchandani.

“While you concentrate on your breathing, the actual problem comes into focus, which in turn helps you get a grip on your emotions.”