We have to breathe to live…but why do we sometimes find ourselves holding our breath?
STRESS. Holding our breath is a natural response to stress. When stressed our bodies go into “fight, flight, or freeze” mode. This in turn will usually create an increased tension in the muscles responsible for breathing which include the thoracic diaphragm and some of the abdominal, chest, neck and shoulder muscles. Stress hormones can wreck havoc on our bodies! They can cause major health issues such as: a weakened immune system, auto-immune diseases, high blood pressure, heart disease and depression to name a few.
A 2002 press release from the National Institute of Health states: “Stress hormones continue to wash through the system in high levels, never leaving the blood and tissue…[and] can have a hazardous, even lethal effect on the body.”
Scientists found that aging can be measured by the length of a protective cap on the ends of our chromosomes called “telomeres” and by the presence of telomerase”, an enzyme that protects the telomeres from the wear and tear of cellular division. In 2009, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn won the Nobel Prize for her discovery of telomeres. Shortened telomeres are associated with weakened immune system function, heart disease, and degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis. Many diseases previously common only in the elderly are now affecting many young people.
“If people could see the impact of stress on their telomeres, they would have the motivation to change their lifestyle and be more willing to embrace a yoga or meditation practice”, states Dr. Blackburn.
Here are four types of breathing techniques and exercises to help with some of your everyday stress:
Ujjayi or Whisper Breath: Victorious Breath has a calming effect on the nervous system
Ujjayi Breathing Exercise: Practice by sitting tall, either cross-legged on the floor or in a chair, or by lying on your back. Close your lips, and breathe through your nose. Begin ujjayi breathing, focusing on matching the quality and quantity of every inhalation to every exhalation. Once you have mastered this technique at rest, try it when under stress or exertion, such as driving in traffic or while exercising...like riding a bicycle.
Three-Part Breath: uses the diaphragm to fill your lungs completely
Three-Part Breath Exercise: Sit tall and inhale, bringing your breath deep into your abdomen, then rib cage, and finally into your chest and throat. Exhale slowly and completely letting everything go. Repeat several times.
Breath Retention: increases level of concentration and helps control the mind.
Breath Retention Exercise: Begin with 3 long deep breaths through the nose, 6-8 counts for the inhale, the same for the exhale. Upon the next inhalation, holding the breath in for 2-4 counts, then exhaling 6-8 counts. Repeating for 3 sets. Now, inhaling 6-8 counts, exhaling an equal length, then holding the breath out for 2-4 counts. Repeating for 3 sets.
Alternate Nostril Breathing: has a balancing effect on the brain and emotions.
Left Side: calming Right Side: clarity
Alternate Nostril Breathing Exercise: Begin by finding a comfortable posture. Start noticing the current flow of the breath move into Equal Ratio Breathing. Taking your right hand into Nose Gesture: curling your first two fingers to your palm, keeping your thumb, ring finger and pinkie extended. From here, taking the right thumb to the bridge of our right nostril. Inhaling through the left nostril. At the top of the inhale, closing the left nostril with our right ring finger (while releasing the thumb) and exhaling through our right nostril. Inhaling through the right nostril. At the top of the inhale, closing the right nostril and exhaling through the left nostril. Repeating the pattern and continuing with this cycle for several rounds.