We can catch our breath, we can lose our breath and we can have our breath taken away, but how much do we really pay attention to the daily process of breathing, and how can we use it to our advantage?
Susan Jaques, yoga and meditation instructor at Easeful Mind in Ashland, says that conscious breathing has many health benefits. “It has been scientifically shown that by practicing certain breathing techniques, you can lower your blood pressure and elevate the relaxation response,” she says. “You can test this theory yourself by taking a blood pressure reading, practicing a deep breathing technique for five minutes, and then taking another reading. Breathing is a fundamental part of meditation and yoga, but it can also be done by itself. Just by watching and becoming aware of your breath, you can calm anger, reduce anxiety and quiet panic attacks.”
Ginny Dean instructs people in yoga and breathing at Essence of Health in Ashland. She says the breath is a powerful tool that can be used anytime of day to de-stress. “We are all going crazy and trying to find 20 minutes a day just for ourselves,” she says. “Just by practicing breathing exercises a few minutes a day, you will become more aware and will benefit on many levels—physically, spiritually and emotionally. When we are stressed, cortisol levels go up, causing damage to our immune system. By simply taking a few deep breaths, those cortisol levels start to drop.”
Jaques says there is no special equipment needed to practice breathing. “You don’t have to light a candle or sit in a special position,” she says. “You can stop where you are, even if you are stuck in traffic or standing in line at the grocery store and focus on your breath. Shallow breathing can turn into panic and anxiety, so take deep conscious breaths. Slowly inhale deep into the lungs and the belly, engaging the diaphragm. Slowly exhale, expelling the air from the lungs and abdomen. You will immediately start to calm down.”
Dean says to take that moment, take deep breaths and push through whatever external things come at you. “Just a few deep breaths can calm us and take the edge off,” she says. “The nervous system will respond. As you consistently practice, your body will look forward to it, much like your muscles look forward to exercise if that is part of your regular routine.”
Both Jaques and Dean teach workshops in breathing and relaxation techniques.
“The only thing that might hinder you from beginning a course is having a cold or upper respiratory problem,” says Jaques. “You might want to get clearance from your doctor. And of course, if you feel uncomfortable with any technique, just stop.”
Dean says consistency is important. “Breathing practices not only relax the mind and muscles, they increase the cardiovascular system and lung capacity,” she adds. “As you continue to visual your breath and practice on a daily basis, it becomes a natural way to breathe. You will take fuller, deeper breaths and begin to see results. You don’t have to go anywhere or buy anything. Just do it wherever you are. No one else can come in. It’s our unique experience. It’s a big part of self-care.”