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What are the health benefits of breathing therapy?

We breathe from the very moment we are born, yet very few of us get to breathe correctly and healthily in adulthood. Where has this conclusion come from? Breathing has been studied for over 5,000 years. Throughout this time, learning correct inhaling and exhaling techniques has proved helpful in eliminating stress, controlling negative emotions, and “steering” the proper functioning of our organs.

Numerous scientists have brought to public notice cases where breathing therapies not only helped preventing diseases, but also cured them. Thus, they have come to the conclusion that correct breathing helps human body function normally and stay healthy. Furthermore, it brings harmony to all body systems. The respiratory centre in the brain directly connects to the hypothalamus, which controls the basic functions of the body, ties in the vital functions and regulates the muscle tone. In addition, it relates to body parts closely connected to hormonal activity, emotional plane, thinking processes and awareness. The Hebrew word for breathing is “ruach”, which also means “spirit”.

While according to breathing experts it is possible to eliminate more than 80% of emotional and physical toxins through breathing, normally we cannot avail ourselves of this potential since we use only 35% of our lung capacity. This is where breathing exercises, which we should practice regularly, step in to help our lungs work at full capacity.

Breathe to put an end to your headaches

If you suffer from headaches, you may try the following simple exercise: lie down on your bed, on one side, and breathe through the nostril on the opposite side. Switch sides after a few minutes. This exercise helps in most of the cases. The explanation is simple: the nasal pathways do not get the same amount of air at the same time. When the right nostril is fully open, the left one is half-closed and the other way round. This is because blood moves through the two nasal cavities in cycles that last around two hours. This pattern is called ultradian rhythm and is closely connected to the activity of the two brain hemispheres.

Breathe to forget about heart problems

Breathing therapies are equally helpful to those who suffer from heart conditions.
Research has revealed that heart attack and shallow breathing are connected. This theory is confirmed by Donna Farhi, who recounts in “The Breathing Book” that patients who had suffered a heart attack were advised to breathe deeply. This helped many of them decrease their chances to suffer a new attack.

Breathe to get rid of anxiety

Shallow breathing occurs when we take 12 to 14 breaths per minute – a rate much higher than normal. This means that we breathe with the top of our lungs, or superficially, as experts would put it. Because of that, our body gets a much lower amount of oxygen, which results in the activation of our sympathetic nervous system. This activation leads to nervousness, irascibility, and anxiety. To avoid such unpleasant situations, it is imperative that we slow down our breathing, which does not mean that we will breathe less –we will breathe more deeply, using our diaphragm; and we will relax more easily.

Breathe to relax

For those who practice yoga, breathing is a way of life. Their masters teach them to breathe deeply and consciously. This is precisely why, after only one yoga session, the body is completely relaxed, and so is the mind. The key to relaxation is to become aware of your breathing and guide it. The simplest exercise meant to help you learn to breathe like this consists in taking a few minutes of peace and quiet every day and watching your breath.

Breathe for the health of your eyes and skin

Since almost all of us spend most of our time in front of our PC’s, our eyes and facial muscles get affected. For this reason, experts recommend a simple relaxing and stress relieving exercise: every 15 minutes, move your eyes away from your PC screen (preferably, in the opposite direction), relaxing your facial muscles at the same time. The result is amazing: during this screen break, the diaphragm movement gets back to normal and the level of oxygen your body gets increases.

Breathe for the health of your digestive system

The following breathing exercise is extremely useful when it comes to improving your digestion: sit on a chair, keeping your back straight, your feet on the floor parallel to each other, and the palms on your knees, “cupping” your hands around your kneecaps and pointing your fingers towards the floor. Using your index, middle and ring fingers, find three hollows under your kneecaps. Fit your fingers into the hollows and press gently keeping a steady pressure. As you inhale, your umbilical area fills with energy; as you exhale, your abdomen contracts naturally. Repeat this exercise on a daily basis, for 5 minutes.

Breathe to keep fit

In 1998, a group of researchers at the University of Pavia, Italy, determined that the optimal breathing rate was six breaths per minute. The patients who had learned to slow down their breathing were able to increase their blood oxygen level and showed remarkable results in tests. The authors of the study concluded that the results were consistent with other studies “showing the beneficial effects of training the muscles involved in the breathing process”.

Breathing techniques able to heal

Rebirthing works deeply to treat emotional traumas from the past, sometimes dating as far back as the pre-birth life. What does this technique involve? It is a special type of breathing, which requires short circular breaths, without pausing between inhalation and exhalation. You breathe in actively and breathe out loosely, both through your mouth. You can also breathe through your nose, lying on your bed. In fact, it is equally recommended to exercise this technique under water, using a breathing tube, thus recreating the intrauterine conditions.

Compared to Rebirthing, the Buteyko technique, or the soul breathing, is based on an apparently opposite principle. The underlying philosophy of the Buteyko technique is that people breathe excessively, which is considered a dangerous thing. The solution proposed by this technique is to extend the breathing pauses. However, if we take a closer look at the philosophy behind this technique, we will realize that it is not poles apart from the other theories. Qigong tradition, for instance, considers long deep breathing to be one of the secrets of longevity. Therefore, it is not the amount of oxygen we inhale, but the quality and depth of our breathing that should concern us. The Buteyko technique does not conflict with Rebirthing either, as Rebirthing is meant to help eliminate emotional blocks or access expanded states of consciousness; it is not the way we normally breathe throughout the day. The Buteyko method has known worldwide success, especially among patients suffering with asthma, the cure rate being almost 100%. It is also called soul breathing because of the long pause between breaths, when, according to experts, the soul itself breathes and fills with energy.

Holotropic breathing is another special technique practiced in combination with varied intense music. A holotropic breathing session lasts 2 to 3 hours and involves learning several corporal manoeuvres similar to massaging, intended to relax the patient.

Breath of fire is intended to clear and oxygenate the respiratory tract and is considered a rapid nose breathing technique. According to experts, this type of breathing may be practiced only in the mountains or in places where the air is very pure. It involves breathing in and out fast, through the nose, until we feel we cannot do it anymore. When we reach that point, we take one or two long breaths and then we let the air out loosely.

Tactical breathing is a breathing technique used especially by firefighters, soldiers or members of Special Forces. It involves counting to 4 during each step of the breathing process: breathing in for a count of 4, holding your breath for a count of 4, breathing out for a count of 4, pausing for a count of 4.

Whole body breathing is used in Qigong practice and involves skin breathing. For that matter, it is quite similar to the way plants breathe. This type of breathing is extremely beneficial for the body, as it helps release negative emotions.

Of course, there are many other more or less known breathing techniques in addition to the practices described above. One of them is the technique known as Pranayama, practiced by yogis. The pattern consists in breathing in – pause – breathing out – pause. In Tibetan yoga, there is a technique that helps accumulate intense heat inside by holding the air in the lungs. Moreover, breathing may be conscious or unconscious, as is the case with the people who sleep or faint. As for the sudden infant death syndrome, there is substantial evidence that babies literally “forget” to breathe while sleeping.

Any of the previously listed techniques are good for your body and completely harmless when applied correctly. Therefore, take a few minutes every day to breathe healthily and your lifestyle will improve visibly. Please note, though, that for whatever health condition you may have, before doing anything you must ask for a doctor’s advice.
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