Breath! So essential yet sometimes so overlooked.
One can do a lot of things with the breath, or simply do nothing with it and let it function naturally and effortlessly, which isn’t a bad thing either. In fact vipassana meditation is precisely this “doing nothing” to ones breath. In that specific form of meditation you simply observe the breath without trying to manipulate it, the breath becomes your anchor as you are guided to direct attention to it whenever you feel distracted, carried away or confused.
Well, that’s all good and nice, but that is not our topic in focus! Our main focus today is how you can use the breath through your own will so that it potentially gives you greater bodily and mental relaxations.
Lets see what we can do to achieve this! However lets just first have a brief look at some of the varied benefits of conscious breathing!
The Benefits of Conscious Breathing
- One who masters his breath, can come to master many different aspects of his or her body.
- Through breathing exercises one can come to build a bridge between the body and mind.
- When you are in tune with the tidal flow of your breath, you can skill-fully relieve yourself from the clutches of the overactive monkey mind.
- Through the breath you become thoroughly aware of the life-force that sustains you each moment.
Why Breath is so Fascinating
- Its our most essential biological function which we cannot survive without even for a minute or two.
- Breath happens to be the nexus point or an integral aspect in various different spiritual disciplines.
- Meditation and breathing have a long history together, consciousness is dependent on the breathing functions of the physical body to function properly
- The breath happens involuntarily yet we can affect it voluntarily as well.
Now that we’ve got that clear for us lets get right down to it!
The following three breathing techniques I have myself used extensively and know both the benefits and the possible side effects of practicing them.
These three are:
- “Buteyko Reduced Breathing Method”
- “Wim Hof Method”
- “True Relaxations Breathing Exercise”
Lets begin with the first!
1. Buteyko’s Reduced Breathing Exercise
The creator of the Buteyko method was the Russian doctor Konstatin Buteyko who in the 1950s formulated a set of principles on which he based on his studies of terminally ill patients. What Buteyko noticed and observed was that those that were very close to mortality, had deeper breathing and more frequent respiratory rate. As he himself fell ill he decided to manipulate his own breathing in order to mimic the respiratory depth and rates of healthy individuals. While doing this he did feel very rejuvenated.
So what were the breathing characteristics of healthy people? According to Dr. Buteyko, a healthy individual has a lower respiratory rate, and has an lower intake of oxygen by breathing shallow breaths through the nose. This may come as a chock for many as we as modern people have been led to believe that deeper breathing is the way to go.
My advice would be to experiment with this method and the following methods to find out what is ideal for your body.
- Sit down comfortably somewhere and settle down by taking a couple normal breaths by breathing in and out through the nose.
- Then begin the exercise by reducing the amount of oxygen intake with each breath. That is with each intake of breath reduce your intake volume by 5-10%
- Keep reducing the intake until you find a sweet spot where you can relatively comfortably maintain that state of reduced oxygen intake and still be alive!
- (Hard Part) Maintain this state of reduced breathing for a couple minutes. (3+ for beginners)
- When this is done, allow your natural and normal breathing to function as usual.
A couple important things to keep in mind while doing this breathing exercise:
- Tip I: Don’t suffocate yourself! As the goal isn’t to totally deprive yourself of oxygen, but to lower the rate and volume comfortably until you reach a state of “mild airhunger”.
- Tip II: Breathe only through the nose and try to use your diaphragm instead of your chest.
- Tip III: Sit or lie down comfortably while doing this and try to maintain a still posture and empty mind.
- Tip IV: These exercises are ideally done on an empty stomach.
2. Wim Hof’s Breathing Method
The Wim Hof method is based on the experiences of the Dutch adventurer, daredevil, world-record holder and missionary of the merciless cold, Wim Hof. Wim Hof began his journey early in his life, searching for truth through many years of studying and exploration of esoteric teachings and practices. But all this searching and learning was incomparable to him consciously immersing himself into the cold.
He only felt total peace and stillness when he went under the ice and kept his breath for many minutes. One of my favorite quotes by Wim is the following “The cold is merciless, but righteous.”
I’ve also practiced this method extensively accompanied with ice cold showers. And just as the Buteyko method, I’ve found Wim Hof’s method to be very beneficial when it comes to learning more about your body and in doing so cultivating a strong, happy and healthy physical organism.
Although I initially had difficulties with understanding the scientific compatibility of Wim Hof’s method with Buteykos, I still managed to incorporate both methods to my everyday life.
Lets get started with the Iceman:
The Wim Hof Method
- Sit or lay down somewhere comfortably and take a couple normal breaths to wind and settle down.
- Start the exercise by taking full powerful breaths from the diaphragm, you could do this either through the nose or the mouth.
- The intake of breaths should be powerful and a total conscious activity while the out breaths should be quite effortless, where you are simply letting go of the breath and not forcing anything.
- Take 15-30 of these breaths, depending on your physical reaction to these powerful breaths.
- After you’ve completed this first set, you can decide to continue by doing one or two more for maximum benefits and rejuvenation.
- Tip I: If you start feeling dizzy, stop the exercise and return to your normal breathing.
- Tip II: Begin with 1-2 sets of 15-30 breaths, and as more experienced you get the more sets you can do.
- Tip III: When you feel quite experienced and comfortable with the Wim Hof method, consider doing one before, during and/or after an ice cold shower. This is in fact how I’m currently doing it and I’ve got to say that I’m loving it!
3. Breathing Breeze Exercise
This is one breathing exercise that I simply spontaneously created and a technique which I use to really calm down the body and to focus my mind on the actuality of the breath. This “breathing breeze” technique is simple and effective in focusing your attention with the sound and sensation of your breathing.
While I wrote the history of the proponents of the two methods above, I don’t feel it appropriate to tell my own biography for the sake of an easy and direct breathing technique.
That being said, lets go down to this last breathing method on our great list of three.
Breathing Breeze Method
- Find a silent place where you can sit or lie down comfortably.
- Begin the exercise by breathing in through your nose, and these in breaths should last between 3-5 seconds.
- Start breathing breeze now by breathing out through the mouth, and these out breaths should be prolonged and last between 10-15 seconds.
- When the out breath is complete, let your lungs stay rested and relatively empty by neither breathing in nor out, and try to keep this state of non-breathing for 3-5 seconds.
- Do 10+ of these breathing breeze breaths and feel how you become more relaxed as you listen to the sound and sensation of your breathing.
- Tip I: To get the breeze-like sound effect, make your mouth circle shaped when breathing out.
- Tip II: Do at least 2-3 sets of 10x breaths to get maximum relaxation.
- Tip III: Just like the Buteyko, the goal isn’t to suffocate yourself but to ease and slow down the breathing, through conscious manipulation of the breath. If a mild “air hunger” arises that is fine, but nothing more than that is my recommendation.
These are the three breathing techniques which I personally have used extensively for helping my overall health and strengthening my body-mind connection.
I’ve found that different methods suit different times, as for example the Wim Hof method is perfect when getting ready for something intensive like an ice cold shower. It boosts your entire system up and you feel super-charged with oxygen.
While I’ve found that the Buteyko Method is much more appropriate when wanting to reach a state of stillness and relaxation.
Therefore my humble advice to you is to try some of them out and feel which one is best suited for you in your given situation.
Daniel Seeker is a wandering dervish and lifelong student of the past, present and future. He realized deep relaxations of the psyche when meditating in his hermit cave on the island of Gotland. His writings are mostly a reflection of that realizaton. Daniel currently studies history and philosophy at Uppsala Universitet, as he is currently writing his B.A. thesis in history which explores how Buddhist, Yogic and Hindu texts were first properly translated and introduced to the western world in the late 18th and 19th century.