Importance of Proper Breathing

A continuation of How to Breathe

Why is proper breathing important?

The breath has two very important main functions: it nourishes the body with oxygen, and it cleanses the body of gaseous and toxic wastes.

“Getting rid of carbon dioxide, not bringing in oxygen, is the main stimulus that drives us to breathe under most circumstances,” Cole says. In other words, your body’s drive to boot what it doesn’t need is greater than its drive to acquire what it does. This is because too much CO2 makes the blood more acidic, which can impair the function of all of your body’s cells. Your brainstem is finely tuned to maintain the pH of the blood, so when the pH skews more acidic, it triggers the stress response and sends an urgent message to the diaphragm to initiate a breath to bring in more O2 and rebalance the blood.

We’re meant to breathe as babies do; the belly naturally rising and falling with each breath. However, adults often lose this form and breathe only into the chest. As a result not only is there strain on the lower back, but the internal organs are deprived of maximal oxygen. And without proper breath, the body is vulnerable to disease because it is slow or unable to expel toxic wastes.

On the level of the mind, breath and emotion are very much connected. Breathing rapidly and shallowly into the chest creates the feeling of anxiety; while slow, deep breathing creates the feeling of calm and peace. Taking control of the unconscious act of breathing bridges the gap between the conscious and unconscious mind, so that you can positively affect your emotions and mental well-being.

Despite the inherently automatic nature of breathing, most people have a lot to learn and improve upon when it comes to the most basic of our physiological functions. We tend to huff at a fairly quick clip most of the time—anywhere from 14 to 20 breaths per minute is the standard, which is about three times faster than the 5 or 6 breaths per minute proven to help you feel your best, says Patricia Gerbarg, MD, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College and co-author of The Healing Power of the Breath.

The autonomic nervous system governs the body’s sympathetic (fight-or-flight) and parasympathetic (rest-and-restore) responses, dialing functions like heart rate, respiration, and digestion up or down as necessary in response to potential threats. Evolutionarily, this worked as a survival mechanism, but today’s nonstop barrage of smartphone pings, emails, and news updates also trips the body’s alarms—and often.

“We’ve long known that breath changes in response to emotion: When people get panicky and anxious, their breath becomes shallow and rapid,” says Khalsa. “But we now know from a number of really good studies that actively changing the breath rate can actually change autonomic function and mood state.”

Here’s how researchers think it works: With each breath, millions of sensory receptors in the respiratory system send signals via the vagus nerve to the brainstem. Fast breathing pings the brain at a higher rate, triggering it to activate the sympathetic nervous system, turning up stress hormones, heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, sweat production, and anxiety. On the other hand, slowing your breathing induces the parasympathetic response, dialing down all of the above as it turns up relaxation, calm, and mental clarity.

Consequences of Sucking at Breathing – Bad breathing habits can give rise to a lot of unexpected adverse effects on our health and well-being. Some of the most crucial ones being:

The nervous system becomes unbalanced – The breath is vital to maintaining a balanced body because each breath has an immediate effect on the nervous system. Imagine inhaling being the gas and exhaling the breaks. A dysfunctional breathing habit, like a short and forced one, results in a tense body and much higher levels of stress.

The airways get tighter – Which makes it harder for the air to make its way to and from the lungs. To compensate, we have to work harder and breathe faster to get the same work done.

The blood vessels constrict – Which can lead to higher blood pressure and which in turn makes the heart work harder.

Less energy is produced – Bad breathing lessens the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to the cells. The cells get stressed and have to prioritize survival instead of development.

Every single one of the processes in the body is dependent on oxygen. Some of our most work-intensive organs are:

  • The brain – Uses 20% of the oxygen we consume. When there’s a shortage of oxygen, the brain will work slower, and since the brain regulates a lot of other functions in the body, these are also affected.
  • The heart – Constantly active and beating about 100.000 times in a single day the heart is a massive consumer of oxygen and shortage in supply means the heart can’t pump out blood as efficiently. That leads to bad circulation, and the result can be cold hands and feet.
  • The muscles – Oxygen shortage hurts stamina as the muscles go stiff, tense and tired faster.

THE AIR CYCLE: Follow along to see what happens during one long, deep inhalation and exhalation.

On an Inhale – As you breathe in, the diaphragm (the dome-shaped muscle that primarily powers the breath) contracts, lowering and flattening. This increases the volume of the thorax (chest cavity enclosed by the rib cage), which not only makes room for the air coming into the lungs but also changes the atmospheric pressure inside the lungs, pulling air in. That air travels through your nostrils and into your nasal cavities, down through your pharynx (throat) and larynx (voice box), and into your trachea (windpipe). Next, it gets routed through the bronchi (passageways leading to the lungs) and bronchioles (passageways less than 1 millimeter in diameter) and into the lungs. Once in the lungs, the air reaches the alveoli (small air sacs), which serve as the marketplace for gas exchange: Oxygen (O2, the food your cells need to produce energy) is traded for carbon dioxide (CO2, the waste produced by energy production in cells) into and out of the bloodstream.

Simultaneously, as you inhale, your heart rate speeds up, thanks to a message sent by stretch receptors within the alveoli to the brainstem (controls heart rate) and the vagus nerve (commands autonomic function), increasing blood flow through arteries (tubes that carry blood away from the heart) to the lungs so more blood can be oxygenated.

From the alveoli, O2 molecules move into capillaries (thin-walled blood vessels) and attach to red blood cells, which start making their way through the pulmonary veins (vessels that carry oxygenated blood to the heart) to the left atrium, or chamber, of the heart. Next, blood moves into the heart’s left ventricle, which then contracts (beats). The contraction pumps oxygen-rich blood through every single cell in the body via the network of arteries and capillaries.

On an Exhale – Inside cells, mitochondria (the energy-production centers) use oxygen to burn sugars, fats, and proteins for energy, and CO2 is a byproduct of this process. CO2 is biochemical waste—you don’t need it—so your body starts the process of shuttling it out. CO2 travels through cell walls into the capillaries and then veins that carry CO2-rich blood to the right atrium and right ventricle of the heart. Next, the right ventricle contracts, pushing the CO2-rich blood out of the heart through the pulmonic valve into the pulmonary artery and back toward the lungs. As the blood enters the alveoli, the CO2 leaves the bloodstream and passes into the lungs. The diaphragm relaxes, decreasing the volume of and pressure in the thorax, and initiating an exhalation. Meanwhile, the heart rate slows, decreasing blood flow to the lungs and discouraging gas exchange while the lungs are still full of CO2-heavy air. The pressure change in the lungs forces the air and CO2 waste back up and out of the lungs into the trachea, through the larynx, pharynx, and nasal cavities, to be exhaled through the nostrils.

4 Reasons to Breathe Right   JESSICA LEVINE

  1. Happiness + emotional stability – Manipulating the breath can alter how we feel, accounting for as much as a 40 percent variance in feelings of anger, fear, joy, and sadness, according to findings in the journal Cognition & Emotion. The breathing instructions used to evoke joy in the study? “Breathe and exhale slowly and deeply through the nose.” Sounds a lot like Ujjayi!
  2. Weight Loss – Yogic breathing practices increase levels of leptin, a hormone produced by fat tissue that signals the brain to inhibit hunger, according to research from Shirley Telles, PhD, director of the Patanjali Research Foundation in Haridwar, India.
  3. Better exercise stamina – A cardiologist at the University of Pavia, Italy, compared a group of mountaineers who practiced slow breathing an hour a day for two years before attempting to climb Mount Everest to a group who didn’t. The breathing group reached the summit without needing the supplemental oxygen the other group did, and their blood and exhalation samples showed they were using 70 percent of the surface area of their lungs, an amount that maximizes the O2 taken in.
  4. Longer life – Just one session of relaxing practices like meditation, yoga, and chanting influenced the expression of genes in both short-term and long-term practitioners, according to a Harvard study. Blood samples taken before and after the breathing practices indicated a post-practice increase in genetic material involved in improving metabolism and a suppression of genetic pathways linked with inflammation. Since chronic inflammation has also been associated with such deadly diseases as Alzheimer’s, depression, cancer, and heart disease, it’s probably fair to say that better breathing may not only change your life but may also save it.

Why do so few of us know how to breathe properly? By Jessica Fellowes

There is something you do approximately 18 times per minute, 1,080 times an hour and 25,920 times a day – and you don’t even think about it: breathing. If you do think about your breath, it’s probably only when you’re running out of it. And that feeling of shortness of breath – whether it’s panting after running for a bus, or gasping for air during an asthma attack – can induce panic. Breath is, of course, fundamental to being alive.

Learning how to breathe from the abdomen is very important: firstly, because the blood in the lowest part of the lungs is the richest for oxygen. Secondly, if you put all the stress for your body support and breathing on your upper chest and shoulders, this will exacerbate any difficulties you suffer with your lungs. For this reason, you should also work to strengthen your core muscles around your abdomen and lower back. Those who are nervous of public speaking or need to inject more confidence into their voice would do well to learn to breathe first.

It is also a good idea to keep away from other panicking people. You may know that shallow breathing is a symptom of stress. But did you know that in a group of people, we tend to mimic each other’s breathing patterns – which is why we pick up another person’s tension so easily? So, go on: take a deep breath and plunge in.


Pause for a moment to observe your natural breath and ask yourself the following:

  1. Am I breathing through my nose? – Nose breathing filters the air, protecting the body from environmental pollution, dust, and airborne germs. It also warms and moistens the air, protecting the respiratory passageways. If you breathe through the mouth, you’re susceptible to dry mouth, colds, and sore throats.
  2. Is my belly expanding with each inhalation? – Breathing into the belly means that you are using the full capacity of your lungs. If your belly is not expanding and contracting, you are breathing shallowly into your chest. This means your internal organs will not be properly oxygenated and you might be creating unnecessary feelings of anxiety.
  3. Am I breathing rhythmically? – The breath should be slow and rhythmic. Rhythmic breathing ensures that you’re expelling the metabolic waste products of metabolism and carbon dioxide. If you’re exhalations are shorter than your inhalations, you’re impairing the body’s ability to rid itself of these toxic wastes.
  4. Are my shoulders open or hunched? – If your shoulders are hunched, your chest caves in and makes it difficult to breathe deeply. Turning your attention to your breath for just a few moments gives you the opportunity to analyze your own breathing habits. If you’re breathing through your nose with open shoulders and can observe your belly rising and falling, you’re on the right track. If not, you may have formed some very unhealthy breathing patterns. Just because we all breathe automatically and unconsciously does not mean that we all breathe correctly. The good news is that you can learn to undo bad breathing habits with simple awareness.


Begin by noticing where you already are with your breath, says Bo Forbes, PsyD, clinical psychologist and integrative yoga therapist. Do you know when and why your breath is shallow, or what makes it speed up? “This is really valuable information in creating stress resilience,” she says. Plus, just becoming aware of your breath tends to slow it down. TRY IT… anytime, anywhere. Breathing through your nose, observe the inhalation and exhalation. Which happens faster? Which is longer? Don’t manipulate them. Just watch. Continue for 2–3 minutes.

Poor breathing habits are easy to spot. Use these 6 tests to identify your own breathing problems.

  1. Upper-Chest Breathing – Lie on your back, placing one hand on your upper chest and the other on your abdomen. If the hand on your chest moves as you breathe but the one on the abdomen does not, you’re definitely a chest-breather. Anything more than slight movement in the chest is a sign of inefficient breathing.
  2. Shallow Breathing – Lie on your back and place your hands around your lower ribs. You should feel an effortless expansion of the lower ribs on the breath in and a slow recoil on the breath out. If your ribs remain motionless, your breathing is too shallow, even if your belly moves.
  3. Overbreathing – Lie down and take a few minutes to let your body establish its relaxed breathing rate. Then count the length of your next exhalation and compare it to the length of the following inhalation. The exhalation should be slightly longer. If not, you are an overbreather. As a second test, try to shorten your inhalation. If that causes distress you are probably an overbreather. Because it is easy to manipulate the outcome of these two tests, you may want someone else to count for you at a time when you are not paying attention to your breath.
  4. Breath Holding – Holding one’s breath after inhaling may be the most common poor breathing habit. To determine if you do this, pay attention to the transition from inhalation to exhalation. A breath-holder usually feels a “catch” and may actually struggle to initiate the exhalation. This tendency is particularly noticeable during exercise. You can reduce the holding by consciously relaxing your abdomen just as an inhalation ends.
  5. Reverse Breathing – happens when the diaphragm is pulled into the chest upon inhalation and drops into the abdomen on exhalation. Lie on your back and place your hands on your abdomen. The abdomen should slowly flatten as you exhale and rise gently as you inhale. If the opposite occurs you are a reverse breather. Since reverse breathing may only occur during exertion, this test is not completely reliable.
  6. Mouth Breathing – It’s fairly easy to notice if you’re a mouth-breather; if you’re not sure, ask your friends or try to catch yourself at unguarded moments.

You can relearn to breathe properly by practicing a few minutes of Abdominal Breathing:

  • Sit on the ground or in a chair, close your eyes and breathe naturally.
  • Place your right hand on your belly and your left hand on your chest.
  • Draw your shoulder blades together to open your shoulders. This relieves pressure on your abdomen and allows your diaphragm to move freely for deep breathing.
  • Take slow, deep breaths through your nose.
  • Breathe into your belly. You might imagine breathing from your navel. You should feel your right hand moving out with each inhalation, and towards you with each exhalation.
  • Focus on rhythmic breathing, with exhalations that are about the same length as inhalations.
  • Practice this for several minutes.

Abdominal breathing should be your natural and regular breath. It’s the most beneficial and efficient way to breathe. By making full use of the lungs it increases oxygenation of the blood and internal organs, improves circulation, and massages the liver, lungs, and stomach. You can correct bad breathing habits both by practicing the Abdominal Breathing exercise above, and by bringing awareness to your breath several times throughout the day to make sure you’re breathing properly. With time, abdominal breathing will become your natural, everyday breath. Once you correct bad habits and learn to breathe properly, you’ll begin to see improvement in your overall physical and mental well-being.

Efficient breathing reduces health risks, including heart attacks – Dr. Williams

In Eastern cultures, great significance is placed on proper breathing techniques, and for good reason. In Western cultures, however, little emphasis is placed on breathing methods, which can lead to, or exacerbate, many health problems. Fortunately, changing your breathing habits is something you can do quite easily once you understand how. Proper deep breathing:

  • Lowers your heart rate
  • Lowers blood pressure and cardiac output
  • Increases blood oxygen levels
  • Promotes clearer thinking
  • Relieves stress
  • Increases metabolism
  • Improves circulation
  • Supports detoxification

An Exercise to Improve Breathing Technique: Here is a simple Far Eastern breathing exercise you can do to “train” your body to breathe in a more efficient manner. It will help your body better use oxygen, increase your energy levels, improve clarity, and promote an overall feeling of calmness. Just follow these steps:

  • Start by counting how many times you breathe each minute. In a relaxed sitting posture, most people breathe anywhere from 15 to 25 times a minute. (After practicing these exercises, your breathing rate may drop to as low as five times a minute, with a greatly increased level of oxygen use.)
  • Lie down on either a bed or the floor. Place a fairly heavy book (a large phone book works well) on your abdomen just below your navel.
  • Breathe through your nose, inhaling in such a manner that you raise the book. When you exhale, the book should lower.
  • Continue practicing this until this breathing pattern becomes natural.

Although this is exactly the way we breathe during sleep—by inflating and deflating our lower abdomen—for some reason our breathing becomes more labored and inefficient during our waking hours. We seem to shift everything up to our chest area and breathe more shallowly.

Additional Tips for Better Breathing:

  • Breathe through the nose as much as possible. The nose pre-warms, moistens, and filters the air before it reaches the lungs.
  • Stand erect with your hands to the side. Begin to inhale slowly and concentrate on allowing the air to fill the lower portion of your lungs first. To do this you must relax your abdominal, or stomach, muscles.
  • While still inhaling, let the air fill the middle portion of the lungs as you let the rib cage relax and expand.
  • Continue inhaling as the upper part of the lungs fill. As this happens, gently raise your collarbone and pull your shoulders up and back.
  • Now exhale reversing the above sequence—that is, let the air release from the upper lungs by relaxing the collarbone and shoulders, then the middle portion of the lungs, and so forth.
  • Make sure your breaths are even, and visualize each section of the lungs completely filling with air. As you fill the upper portion of the lungs, picture your chest expanding and your shoulders becoming more erect and higher.


  1. Breathe through the nose: The breath should go in and out through the nose. Your nose is kind of like a factory that refines and prepares the air coming in to be used by the body as efficiently as possible. When you breathe through your mouth, the lungs get a lot more “unfiltered” air that is raw, cold, dry and full of viruses and bacteria. If you feel like your nose is way too stuffy to close your mouth that’s most likely because you’ve been breathing through your mouth for so long that your nose has adapted. Usually, it won’t take more than a couple of days of nose breathing to open up your nostrils again.
  2. Breathe with the diaphragm: The air you breathe in through your nose should go all the way down to your belly. Your breathing muscles consist of the diaphragm and muscles in the abdomen, chest, neck, and shoulders. 70-80% of the inhaling should be done by the diaphragm so that your breathing is nice and deep. That has a couple of advantages:
  • It helps your lungs with the gas exchange which is much more efficient way down in the lungs.
  • The diaphragm massages your liver, stomach, and intestines and gives these organs a rhythmical balance.
  • The lymphatic system, which is essential for our immune system, gets the help it needs to get rid of the waste products from the bowels.
  • The pressure in the chest and belly is decreased so that the heart won’t have to work as hard.
  • More effective muscle work as the wrong breathing muscles won’t have to do unnecessary work.
  • When the chest gets more relaxed, so does the neck and shoulders, and as a result, the likelihood of pain in these areas go down.
  1. Breathe relaxed: No matter what we want to do, we do it better if we are relaxed. Since our breathing reflects our thoughts, feelings and physical body, it means that situations that have us feeling stiff also lead to tense and stressed breathing. This way of breathing then leads to a lack of oxygen which in turn makes the body and brain even more stressed. By taking control of our breathing and making it more relaxed, our body tunes in and becomes relaxed as well which leads to better functioning in general. When the body is relaxed, health is good, energy is high, and it becomes easier to be happy and loving toward yourself and others.
  2. Breathe rhythmically: Everything has a natural rhythm – the ocean waves, the seasons, the moon. Your body is no different. The rhythm of the heart is measured in EKG and the brain in EEG. The hormones in the body follow our natural rhythm. One example the melatonin that is released when we’re going to sleep. Optimal breathing is no different; it’s in the rhythm we find well-being. When everything is in tune, the body functions at it’s very best.
  3. Breathe silently: Coughing, snoring, sniffling and so on are suboptimal breaths in disguise. It’s easy to neglect all these sounds we are making, but a breathing pattern that contains a lot of these elements is a considerable strain on the body. The natural breath falls out of its rhythm, and we mess up principle number 4. Before we sigh or a cough we usually take a big breath which leads to irregular breathing. Snoring means we have to compensate through breathing faster. A lot of us breathe quickly and even louder when we talk. All these noises and talking lead to incorrect breathing.

Easy Ways to Proper Breathing

  1. Conscious breathing – Become aware of how you breathe during different parts of the day. A practical tip for this is to let your phone alarm go off every hour or so and check your breathing each time it does. Are you breathing relaxed, rhythmically, silently and deeply through your nose? Is there room for improvement in this particular situation?
  2. Breathe through your nose – A closed mouth, with the tongue placed on the palate, ensures that the breathing happens in and out the nose. If your nose is stuffy, do a sinus rinse.
  3. Extended exhale – An extended exhale increases the relaxation and makes the inhale deeper and more rhythmical. For optimal breathing, the inhale should be 2-3 seconds, exhale 3-4 seconds followed by a pause for 2-3 seconds. The extended exhale also has a positive effect on the inhale which gets deeper.
  4. Straight posture – An upright position gives a deeper breathing where the diaphragm gets more space to work. Your thoughts and feelings are affected positively, and at the same time, it gets easier to breathe through the nose.
  5. Body consciousness – Be aware of your body and how tense or relaxed it is in different situations. A comfortable body makes it easier to keep a rhythmical and relaxed breathing.


Learn to ‘draw on the well’ – Find an image for the breath in your stomach – it might be fire, light or a well. This is to help you visualize your breath coming from the deeper part of the lungs and helps you to stop shallow breathing. Use this image whenever doing breathing exercises.

Relax your breathing mechanisms – Stand up, plant your feet firmly on the floor, hip-width apart. Relax your shoulders. Soften your joints – ankles, knees, hips. At the same time, feel your spine straighten up through the crown to the ceiling, so that you feel loose but have height. Keep the head straight but allow it to bob about slightly on the atlas joint (the pivot which makes it possible for you to nod).

Breathe the right way round – Place both hands, one on top of the other, over your stomach (using the belly button as the central point). Breathe in and feel your stomach expand; breathe out and push the stomach gently back in with it. We tend to “breathe backwards” (hunching our shoulders and sucking our stomachs in when we take a deep breath); this exercise makes us aware of the correct way to breathe.

Practice wide breathing – Feel yourself expand as you breathe. Place your hands just above your hips on your bottom ribs – you should feel these expand in and out as you breathe. There is a belt of muscles under the diaphragm and that’s what’s sending the breath out. To expand your breath capacity this is what you should concentrate on: it will help give you a longer stream of breath.

Try “body breathing” – Breathe out for as long as you can. Then, with your mouth open, allow the breath to be recalled automatically back in. Breath equalizes itself: you will always breathe back in the amount you breathed out. This is one of the most profound parts of breath training – allowing the body to breathe itself.


Diaphragmatic breathing is intended to help you use the diaphragm correctly while breathing to:

  • Strengthen the diaphragm.
  • Decrease the work of breathing by slowing your breathing rate.
  • Decrease oxygen demand.
  • Use less effort and energy to breathe.

Diaphragmatic breathing technique – At first, practice this exercise 5-10 minutes about 3-4 times per day. Gradually increase the amount of time you spend doing this exercise, and perhaps even increase the effort of the exercise by placing a book on your abdomen.

  1. Lie on your back on a flat surface or in bed, with your knees bent and your head supported. You can use a pillow under your knees to support your legs. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.
  2. Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
  3. Tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips (see “Pursed Lip Breathing Technique_”). The hand on your upper chest must remain as still as possible.

When you first learn the diaphragmatic breathing technique, it may be easier for you to follow the instructions lying down, as shown on the first page. As you gain more practice, you can try the diaphragmatic breathing technique while sitting in a chair, as shown below.

To perform this exercise while sitting in a chair:

  • Sit comfortably, with your knees bent and your shoulders, head and neck relaxed.
  • Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
  • Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.
  • Tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips (see “Pursed Lip Breathing Technique”). The hand on your upper chest must remain as still as possible.

Note: You may notice an increased effort will be needed to use the diaphragm correctly. At first, you’ll probably get tired while doing this exercise. But keep at it, because with continued practice, diaphragmatic breathing will become easy and automatic.

As Referenced Before –

Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious Breath or Ocean Breath) – This classic pranayama practice, known for its soft, soothing sound similar to breaking ocean waves, can further enhance the relaxation response of slow breathing, says Patricia Gerbarg, MD, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College and co-author of The Healing Power of the Breath. Her theory is that the vibrations in the larynx stimulate sensory receptors that signal the vagus nerve to induce a calming effect. TRY IT… to focus your attention on your breath during asana. Inhale through your nose, then open your mouth and exhale slowly, making a “HA” sound. Try this a few times, then close your mouth, keeping the back of your throat in the same shape you used to make the “HA,” as you exhale through the nose.

Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (Alternate-Nostril Breathing) – This practice of alternating between the right and left nostrils as you inhale and exhale “unblocks and purifies the nadis, which in yogic belief are energy passages that carry life force and cosmic energy through the body,” Cole says. While there is no clear scientific evidence to support these effects, one pilot study found that within seven days of practicing this technique, overactive nervous systems were essentially rebalanced. And a study of 90 people with high blood pressure found Nadi Shodhana lowered blood pressure and improved mental focus. TRY IT… at the end of an asana sequence to prepare the mind for meditation. Take a comfortable seated position. Close your right hand in a gentle fist in front of your nose, then extend your thumb and ring finger. Gently close your right nostril with your thumb. Inhale through your left nostril, then close it with your ring finger. Open your right nostril and exhale slowly through it. Inhale through the right nostril then close it. Open your left nostril and exhale slowly through it. That completes one cycle. Repeat 3–5 times.

Kumbhaka Pranayama (Breath Retention) – If you inhale fully and then wait 10 seconds, you will be able to inhale a bit more, Strom says. Why? Holding your breath increases pressure inside the lungs and gives them time to fully expand, increasing their capacity. As a result, the blood that then travels to the heart, brain, and muscles will be more oxygenated. TRY IT… after asana to prepare for meditation. Inhale, inflating the lungs as fully as possible. Hold the breath for 10 seconds. After 10 seconds, inhale a little more. Then hold it for as long as you can. One caveat: For anxious people, breath retention can be difficult. Strom suggests they start with holding the breath for 3 seconds, or as long as they’re comfortable, and work their way up.

Kapalabhati Pranayama (Breath of Fire or Skull-Shining Breath) – This rapid breathing technique is energizing, and activates the sympathetic nervous system. In a study using EEG electrodes to measure brain activity, researchers found that Kapalabhati Pranayama increased the speed of decision-making in a test requiring focus. However, “For people already under stress, I don’t think Breath of Fire is a good idea,” Strom says. “You’re throwing gasoline on the fire.” TRY IT… to jump-start your asana practice when you feel lethargic, or for brainpower when you’re foggy. To start, take a full, deep inhale and exhale slowly. Inhale again, and begin exhaling by quickly pulling in the lower abs to force air out in short spurts. Your inhalation will be passive between each active, quick exhalation. Continue for 25–30 exhalations.


  19. COPD Foundation. COPD AND YOU. Accessed 5/21/2014.
  20. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Accessed 5/21/2014.