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Pranayama – Diaphragmic Breathing

Updated: Jan 30, 2021

I don’t know about you...

I don’t know about you, but the hustle and bustle of life is back into full swing now that the holiday season is over. Not only am I facing the normal challenges with work, family, etc., but also dealing with the stress from the situation our nation finds itself in today. All of these things often bring about stress and our body has real physical reactions to it. We find that our pulse may quicken, our shoulders and muscles tighten up, and our breathing becomes shallow.

Yoga is comprised of an 8 Limbs Path as founded by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. The fourth limb is Pranayama or breathwork. All limbs are to be practiced in order to connect with the divine source.

Pranayama not only is about controlled breathwork, but also is known to be our life force. Without breath there is no life.

As we enter the world the first thing we do as babies is take a breath and cry. As we pass on the last thing, we do is take our final breath. Breath is a vital part of our living as human beings and is the only function within our body that is controlled voluntarily and involuntary.

Within yoga there are different types of Pranayama techniques. There are specific types which include breathing consciously, interval breathing, alternative nostril breathing, and diaphragm breathing. Each of the techniques which incorporate one of the aforementioned breath styles create different physical and or mental conditions within the body.

Yoga teaches us to start to focus and recognize our own breathing patterns. By taking a few quiet moments, reducing distractions each day to bring awareness to the mind as to how we are breathing then we can start to encourage new breath patterns. Over time these new breath patterns can often become learned and instinctual. Many Americans today are shallow breathers which use the chest muscles to move the flow of oxygen in and out of our bodies. Taking deep breaths which draw the air through the chest and down to the diaphragm on inhale (also known as belly breathing) in a slow and controlled manner while then on the exhale allowing the air slowly to move from the diaphragm, up through the chest cavity, and out of our nose or mouth can bring positive physical reactions to the body.

Often times when we are anxious, we can identify that at the same time our breath has become shallow and rapid. By taking a deep breathes slowly through our nose, drawing the air through our chest, to our diaphragm in which we feel the expansion in our belly and then slowly (twice as long as the inhale) release the breath in the belly allowing it slowly to ascend upwards and through the mouth this will start to create a calming reaction in our nervous system. One way you can really learn and focus this style of breath technique is to place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Slowly breathe through the nose, counting the seconds it takes, to fill your lungs and then your belly. You will feel the belly press outward, pushing your hand away from your spine. As you slowly release the air you will feel your hand collapse towards your spine, the air will then press slightly into your hand on your chest as it then releases through your mouth.

This conscious diaphragmic breathing helps shift our nervous system from a state of fight or flight (sympathetic nervous system) to a state of calm (parasympathetic nervous system). The physical differences in our bodies between these two states are parallel to one another. While our sympathetic nervous system is engaged, we will find that our pupils dilate, our digestion slows, our heart rate increases, and we release endorphins. This is the bodies way to prepare to attack an enemy. In order to counteract this response which is often a physical reaction brought about by stress and anxiety we can shift our nervous system through this diaphragmic breathing so that we move into a parasympathetic response.

Next time you find yourself stressed and anxious check in consciously with your breath. If you find that your body has engaged this sympathetic response, then fall back on this ancient practice of yogic breathwork to calm your body. The physical changes are real, and you will find yourself more calm and able to deal mentally with whatever situation you are encountering! engaging content, so be sure to keep your blog organized with Categories that also allow visitors to explore more of what interests them.

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