Breath is life. In order to live consciously, we must breathe consciously. Breathing infuses the blood and cells with oxygen and balances the release of carbon dioxide from the body. Beyond sustaining life, it integrates the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of the Self. Respiration patterns are an indication of the state of being. Slow and regular breathing indicates relaxation and peace. Shallow, fast and erratic breathing generally indicates stress and anxiety.
Managing stress begins with regulating the breath. Yoga abdominal breaths are deep breaths that induce the relaxation response, which slows the pulse rate, decreases blood pressure, increases digestion and assimilation and stimulates the immune system. The following are five of the many pranayama patterns that yoga teaches. With repetition and practice, conscious breathing becomes an automatic behavior that promotes overall health and life.
Abdominal breathing begins with inhaling through the nose while expanding the lower abdominal muscles outward, allowing the diaphragm to lower which gives the lower lobes of the lungs room to fill with air. The ribs then expand outward as if a balloon is inflating outward in all directions filling upward into the clavicle. The exhale through the nose begins with the lower abdominals contracting to move the air upward as ribs contract and the chest draws inward as if the balloon is deflating as the lungs empty.
Four part breathing is deep abdominal breathing with emphasis given to each distinct part. Inhale slowly and deeply and then rest at the still point with all of the air in. Exhale as slowly as possible and rest with all of the air out. This pattern is especially effective in changing the stress reaction into the relaxation response, restoring a sense of well-being.
HA breathing uses the Hawaiian word ha meaning breath, life, spirit and personal power. HA breath begins with a deep abdominal inhale through the nose followed by an exhale through the mouth allowing the sound HA. The HA exhale can be quiet and gentle or forceful and loud. It assists in releasing physical strain, pent-up emotions and scattered thinking.
Balance breathing produces cross firing of left and right brain synapses. Begin with the right pointer finger closing the left nostril as you inhale a deep abdominal breath through the right nostril. Close the right nostril with the right thumb and exhale through the opened left nostril. Hold the right nostril closed while you inhale through left nostril, then close it with the right pointer finger, and exhale out the right nostril. Continue from side to side, always closing the nostril that just inhaled, and inhaling through the nostril that just exhaled. Intend that each inhale is moving up into one side of the brain, cross firing over to the other side, then moving downward and out with the exhale. The next inhale moves up that same side to cross back over. Intend that the right and left brain hemispheres are balancing with each breath.