Take a really deep breath in. Now slowly exhale…
How incredible is the human body? I remember sitting in a biology lesson at school, fascinated by the intricate detail of the lungs (drawn up on the blackboard by my favourite teacher Mr Johnson in multi-coloured chalk – we are talking the 80s here!). 673 million = the number of breaths taken by a person in an average lifespan of 80 years.
Anatomy of the lungs
Here are some mind-blowing facts and figures:
- 300 to 600 million – the number of alveoli in a lung
- 23,040 – the number of times we inhale and exhale air in a day
- 1,500 miles – the length covered by lung airways when laid out
- 16 per minute – normal breathing rate
- 8.15 litres – the amount of air we breathe every minute.
Legendary yoga pioneer and teacher B.K.S. Lyengar said, “Breathing is the prime mover of all activity”.
So how exactly does breathing work?
When you breathe in, or inhale, your diaphragm contracts (tightens) and moves downward. This increases the space in your chest cavity, into which your lungs expand. The intercostal muscles between your ribs also help enlarge the chest cavity. They contract to pull your rib cage both upward and outward when you inhale. When you’re breathing deeply, it should come from your lower abdominal area, then move like a wave through your body, so it fills your body at the bottom, then moves laterally and upward.
When was the last time you took a really deep breath?
Let’s do one together now: slowly inhale through the nose for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, and slowly exhale out through the mouth for 5 seconds. How do you feel?
I know that, when I am under pressure in my day, I feel so much better if I stop, even for just 2 minutes, and take some long, deep breaths. Here are 2 of my favourite breathing exercises…
Alternate Nose Breathing
- Close the right nostril (use thumb or forefinger) and gently and fully inhale through the left nostril
- Breathe out through the left nostril, then inhale through the right, closing the left nostril
- Continue, alternating nostrils after each exhalation
- Try to keep your in and out breaths slow and even in length
- Aim for 8-10 times complete cycles.
Kundalini Deep Breathing
- Bend your elbows and rest your right forearm on your left forearm, with your palms down.
- The arms are held in front of your body at shoulder height, parallel to the floor
- Close your eyes and keep your eyes steady
- Keep your spine straight and your arms parallel with the floor
- Breathe slowly and deeply so that one breath takes a full minute (inhale for 20 seconds, hold for 20 seconds, and exhale for 20 seconds – you can build up to this – I normally manage 5-10 seconds of each and repeat for 2-3 minutes).
Breathing and energy
Let’s head back to the biology classroom for a minute, to look at the relationship between breathing and energy – it’s fascinating stuff! As well explained by Paul Chek, in ‘How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy’, first, you use energy to inhale and fill your lungs with air.
The lungs take oxygen from that air and attach it to iron particles in your red blood cells which are delivered through the body by the heart via arteries. Whilst the oxygen has a very strong positive charge (like the positive pole of a magnet), your body tissues and the water in your body act like the negative pole of a magnet. And as you may remember from school science, wherever you have a positive and negative pole there is energy and work potential – thus breathing into the body creates energy (or prana/chi/qi)! So very simple and amazing.
Considering that we breathe over 20,000 times a day, it would be of great benefit to be breathing well to optimise our energy levels. If our breathing, however, is less than optimal it can have a profound effect on our health and wellbeing; ultimately leading to problems in our digestive system, detoxification system, organ health, posture and sympathetic nervous system which all lead to an increased stress response with every breath!
Why not start your daily breathing practice today?
- Find a place in your house or garden where you will be uninterrupted for a few minutes at least
- Sit on a Swiss ball, nice and straight in a chair or lie down on your back
- Relax and get comfortable for a few seconds; breathe in through the nose – your belly button should rise out as your diaphragm expands
- Hold your breath for 3-5 seconds, relaxing your shoulders
- Exhale slowly through the mouth making a whooshing sound.
I guarantee you will feel the benefits almost immediately and – with a simple daily routine – for every day into the future.
- Light on Pranayama – B.K.S. Iyengar
- How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy – Paul CHEK
- Hatha Yoga (or the Yoga Philosophy of Physical Well-Being) – Yogi Ramacharaka
- Kundalini Research Institute – Subagh Kriya (part 5)