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How to breath for relaxation

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How to breathe to relax

Breathing’s an automatic function – a contraction and expansion of muscles to draw in vital air to the body that’s impossible to resist, as any child who’s had a ‘holding your breath’ competition can tell you. So we shouldn’t need lessons, should we?

Think again – our normal breathing actually only uses about 10% of our lung capacity. And remember those lessons in breathing through the pain of labour? Perhaps it’s no wonder that ‘taking a deep breath’ has become common parlance for preparing yourself for effort, and for keeping calm. As far back as the Ancient Greeks and Romans, medical experts have advocated breathing deeply, so it seems that for thousands of years we’ve known that all that extra 02 does wonders for body and soul.

Try it anywhere

At its simplest you can just find a few moments – at your desk, on the train, or in bed – to concentrate on taking deeper, slower breaths, through your nose if possible. This will allow you to relax your mind and muscles, to feel calmer and more in control; literally a bit of ‘breathing space’.

That might be all you need but, if you want more, then yoga techniques have a lot to offer. Sanskrit, the language of yoga, calls the breath ‘prana’ – the life force – and breathing exercises are known as ‘pranayama’ which translates literally as ‘interruption of breath’. In practice it means being mindful of our breathing and taking control, so that we learn to relish drawing in and releasing air, just as we might savour a favourite food.

Sound good? Then here are a few ways to try it for yourself.

The counted breath and two-to-one breath

An extension of simple deep breathing, what this does is introduce some control over the rhythm of your breathing. Start by counting the lengths of your in-breath and out-breath, which are likely to be uneven, then use counting to make your in- and out-breaths equal.  Continue for a few breaths and, when you’re ready, try the two-to-one breath. This time, whatever number you count for your in-breath, double it for your out-breath – so breathe in for four and out for eight, for example. (If this is challenging at first, build up to it by breathing out for six, and extending once you get used to it.) These longer out-breaths are a great way to relax and slow down – ideal as a de-stresser, or part of your bedtime routine.

The three part breath

The three parts in question are your abdomen, ribcage and upper chest – and since the exercise aims to completely fill your lungs, it’s also known as the ‘complete breath’. If you’re new to this, you might want to try it out lying down at first, with one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.breathing for relaxation That way you can feel more clearly how your body moves. Standing, sitting or lying comfortably, inhale slowly and deeply so that your belly rises, then your ribs expand, and your upper chest rises. Breathe out and reverse the movements – your chest will lower, your ribs will contract and finally your belly sinks. Repeat several times and soon you’ll find you don’t have to think about each movement, and the three parts of the breath flow smoothly, one after another.

The alternate nostril breath

Apparently we each have a dominant nostril (who knew?) so this exercise is meant to balance our breathing across both nostrils, as well as focusing on breathing mindfully. You could probably do this discreetly at your desk, but you really need to have clear nasal passages – one or more blocked nostrils make it tricky, and it could get messy. With your right hand, close your right nostril with your thumb, and breathe in slowly through the left. Close the left nostril now, with your third finger, and hold your breath. Release your thumb and breathe out slowly through the right nostril. Then repeat in the opposite direction. Once you’ve got the pattern, try to breathe in for a count of four, hold for 16 and breathe out for eight – and repeat for a few rounds, for greater benefit.

The mountain breath

You need a bit of space for this, so it might not be one to do in the middle of an open-plan office – but it is a great energiser, useful for seeing off that post-lunch slump.  Start off by standing up as tall as you can (it can also be done sitting). As you breathe in slowly, raise your arms to the sides and then above your head. Stretch up as far as you can, with your lungs full, for a few seconds. Then breathe out slowly as you lower your arms back down, stretching them out as you go. Ideally, repeat this half a dozen times.

And… relax!




About Alison McKay

About Alison McKay

Alison McKay is a charity PR professional with over 15 years' experience in full-time, part-time and jobshare roles. Since being made redundant while on maternity leave, she has divided her time between working for a local museum, freelance and volunteer writing, and being chief wrangler to a two-year-old mud-magnet and an almost-seven-year-old wannabe dog-care worker with a penchant for hair accessories. Alison's hobbies include yoga, reading cookery books and putting away just enough clean laundry to keep the pile below 3ft tall.

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