“A yogi measures the span of life by the number of breaths, not by the number of years.”
– Swami Sivananda
Breathing is life. Our breath is a catalyst for the process of oxygenation, which brings life to our cells. Practicing slow, mindful breathing also lowers our resting heart rate, which increases lifespan and overall health. When we harness the power of our breath, we can bring energy and life into every cell of our body.
There are times when our breath becomes stuck and we feel unable to breathe to our fullest capacity. In the winter season, this can be particularly noticeable. Nature itself slows down and our bodies follow suit. For many plants and animals, this is a time of hibernation and rest. For us, it’s an important and powerful time to reflect, realign and nourish ourselves. Without this period of introspection, we would miss the opportunity to prepare for the rest of the year, when our energy becomes more and more outwardly focused and expansive.
The heaviness of wintertime can leave us feeling weighed down, uninspired, depressed or stagnant in body and mind. By liberating and loosening our breath, we open our body and mind and set ourselves up for a season of nourishment. We can then harvest the fruits of our winter slumber in spring, summer and fall. Keep your energy flowing smoothly this winter with three techniques to activate healthy breathing and enliven your being.
1) Diaphragm Release
When the body is inactive, the fascia surrounding the upper abdominal organs can stagnate, restricting movement of the diaphragm. When the diaphragm is restricted, deep breathing becomes more difficult. Practice this exercise each morning on an empty stomach to release the diaphragm and deepen the breath. Go slowly and gently, as the stomach is one of the most tender areas of the body.
• Bring the right fingertips to just beneath the ribcage on the right side. Grab your right wrist with your left hand for support.
• Take a deep breath in, while expanding your belly outward.
• Exhale, curl the torso forward into seated “cat” and gently press in with the fingertips.
• Inhale, continue pressing and lift the torso up into a slight backbend, or seated “cow.”
• Release, Repeat beneath the left and middle of the ribs.
This technique helps us awaken and inspire breathing muscles that have become dormant or disengaged.
• Lie down on your back in savasana, or constructive rest pose. Notice your breathing.
• Begin gently tapping the collarbone area with the fingertips for 30 seconds, or up to one minute. Lower the hands, pause, and notice any changes in the breath.
Repeat this process in the following areas:
• Tap the fingers up and down the sternum.
• Tap the low ribs. Tap the front, sides and back of the ribs (as far as you can comfortably reach).
• Tap the ASIS (front hip bones).
• Relax and take a few breaths, noticing any changes.
3) “HA” Breath
This technique uses strong, full exhalations to inspire deeper, easier and slower inhalations. Excess CO2 is released from the body, allowing oxygen to rush in and feed our cells.
• Take a deep breath in and bring the shoulders up toward the ears.
• Exhale with a long “HA” sigh out the mouth. Engage the belly in toward the spine, and exhale all the way out.
• Repeat 3-5 times.
Originally published in the Winter + Spring 2019 issue.