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The Power of Proper Breathing

Wednesday, March 12, 2008
“Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life? ”
–Mary Oliver

Dear Friends,

Spring has sprung in many parts of the country. And as more of us pop our heads out of winter hibernation, it feels great to enjoy the sunshine, warmth, and fresh air (for those of you who don’t have this wonderful weather yet, it will find you soon!) As I take a deep breath, inhaling Spring’s sweet scents, I am reminded of the power of proper breathing. (In fact, I’m devoting an entire chapter to breathing in the book I’m currently writing.)

Two monks, master and student, walked along a path, returning to their monastery after several hours of meditating high in the Himalayan Mountains. The student complained to his master, saying, “Breathing is so boring!” Without a word, the master grabbed his student by the neck, pulled him over to a nearby stream, and plunged the student’s head beneath the rushing water. He kept him under water for several seconds, as the student kicked and squirmed. Finally, the master yanked his student’s head above the surface and asked, “Now, what do you have to say about ‘breathing’?”

Volumes of research about breathing have been published. Briefly, some recent findings:
Dr. David Anderson, head of research into behavior and hypertension at the NIH’s National Institute on Aging, suggests that breathing less than 10 breaths per minute for a few minutes a few times a day is enough to help some people bump down high blood pressure.
Breathing is responsible for 70% of the elimination of toxins from our bodies.

Stress releases large amounts of cortisol and adrenaline. Deep belly breathing has been found to be the most effective and efficient way to activate the parasympathetic system – the relaxation response.

Dr. Andrew Weil claims that “Improper breathing is a common cause of ill health” and that learning to breathe effectively can improve your healing with diseases such as heart attacks, cancer, strokes, pneumonia, and asthma. It’s one of the simplest changes you can make to improve your overall health and well-being. Given that, would you be interested in learning to breathe properly? Belly breathing – the breathing you see in small children and that you may feel in yourself as you relax into sleep — is the goal.

Try the following exercise:

Without consciously changing how you breathe, place one hand on your chest and one hand over your belly button. Notice which hand moves more as you breathe. If you are belly breathing, the hand on your belly will rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale. If you are chest breathing, you may find the opposite to be true.

Now relax your belly. To the count of four, inhale and allow your belly to expand. Exhale to the count of six, allowing your belly to collapse without tensing it. Pause for one beat and repeat the slow inhale/exhale process for several minutes.

How do you feel? Many people notice an immediate difference and sense of well-being from just a few moments of proper breathing. But whether you notice this or not, your body will be very grateful for the delicious deep breath you’ve just given it!

Wishing you focus, fitness and flexibility in body and mind!

Adrianne Ahern, Ph.D.
Performance Consultant, Keynote Speaker, and author of Snap Out Of It Now!
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