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Breath Control: Try These Ancient Breathing Exercises

Breath Control:
Try These Ancient Breathing Exercises

The Relaxing Breath
The Stimulating Breath

The Relaxing Breath
This reliable relaxation technique comes from yoga. It's great to do anytime you're feeling anxious, angry, upset, or stressed, or even when you're feeling physical discomfort and pain. Some people find that doing the Relaxing Breath (also called the 4-7-8 Breath) when they wake up in the middle of the night helps them fall back to sleep easily. Like all breathing exercises, the Relaxing Breath becomes more powerful the more you practice it.
  1. Sit or lie comfortably with your back straight, and place your tongue in what's called the yogic position: Touch the tip of your tongue to the back of your upper front teeth and slide it up until it rests on the ridge of tissue between your teeth and the roof of your mouth. Keep your tongue there for the entire exercise.
  2. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound. You may need to purse your lips to do this comfortably.
  3. Close your mouth lightly. Inhale through your nose quietly to the count of 4.
  4. Hold your breath for the count of 7.
  5. Exhale through your mouth to the count of 8, making a whoosh sound.
  6. Repeat steps 3 through 5 three more times, for a total of four cycles. Then breathe normally and see how your body feels.
The key to doing this exercise is to keep to the ratio of 4-7-8, which ensures that your exhales will be twice as long as your inhales. It doesn't matter how fast or slow you count; your pace will be determined by how long you can comfortably hold your breath.

Practice this exercise at least twice a day, perhaps right after you wake up and just before you go to sleep. After a month of practicing, you can try increasing the number of breath cycles from four to eight. back to top

The Stimulating Breath
When you need a quick pick-me-upólike when you feel that mid-afternoon slumpóhere's a yogic exercise that works faster than a cup of coffee. It's also known as the Bellows Breath.
  1. Sit with your back straight and put your tongue in the yogic position. (For instructions on how to do this, see the Relaxing Breath.) Hold your tongue there for the entire exercise.
  2. Breathe in and out very rapidly through your nose, keeping your mouth lightly closed. Your inhales and exhales should be of equal length and as short as possible (as many as three breath cycles per second, if you can do that comfortably). You should feel the effort in your muscles at the base of your neck and just above your collarbone. Put your hands on these spots to get a sense of movement. The action of your chest should be rapid and mechanical, like a bellows pumping air.
The first time you do this exercise, keep it up for no longer than 5 or 10 seconds, then breathe normally. Each time you do it, increase the duration by 5 seconds, if you can, until you work up to a full minute.

This is real exercise, and you can expect to feel some tiredness in the muscles you are using at first. At the same time, you should feel a greater sense of alertness and less mental tiredness, an effect that will increase with practice. Try practicing this exercise once a day when you first wake up. back to top

Remember, if you feel lightheaded or sick while doing these exercises, stop and rest. It can take time to work up to doing these exercises regularly if you're not used to breathing this way.

Adapted from "Dr. Andrew Weil's Self Healing" newsletter, Copyright 2001-2008 by Thorne Communications. back to top

Last Modified Date: 3/16/2001
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