When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Or do they? In times of pressure, you may want to consider stepping back, taking a deep breath, and practicing some traditional yoga and meditation techniques designed to reduce stress and increase overall wellness.
Yoga and How It Benefits Your Lungs
Most yoga practices today follow an eight-limbed philosophy, one limb of which is completely dedicated to breathing. This branch of yoga, pranayama (“life force extension”), emphasizes the belief that healthy breathing can increase your life span. Pranayama exercises include deep belly breathing, alternate-nostril breathing, and stop-action breathing, all of which are designed to increase awareness of one’s breathing and maintain control over one’s lungs. Other benefits of pranayama include reduced stress, improved sleep quality, pain relief, and over time, smooth and even unconscious breathing patterns.
In yoga, breathing properly is just as important as the poses and movement is often accompanied by an inhale or exhale. Vinyasa yoga is a form of yoga specifically focusing on breath connected to movement; inhales accompany more energetic endeavors that engage your muscles, while exhales pair with stretching, lengthening, or relaxing muscles. One specific type of breathing, the “Ujjayi breath”, is particularly helpful for improving focus and control over your body. To achieve Ujjayi breathing, tighten the back of your throat while breathing through your nose. Your breath should be audible and controlled.
Yoga has many widely-recognized health benefits as well. Yoga has been found to lower heart rate and blood pressure while improving strength, fitness, and flexibility. In gentle forms, yoga is also a safe method of exercise for pregnant woman or people suffering from high blood pressure, glaucoma, or sciatica. However, it’s important to consult with your doctor before beginning a yoga routine, and work with the instructor for modifications that fit your needs.
Meditation as a Way to Improve Breathing
In Buddhist tradition, meditation uses mindful breathing to develop a calm and focused mind. By concentrating on the natural sensations of breathing, your mind is able to gather all scattered thoughts and move on to awareness in body, mind, and emotion.
Many research studies have explored how meditation can improve mental and physical health. Mentally, meditation has been shown to strengthen connections between brain cells and increase brain matter. Meditation practitioners may also experience higher emotional stability and a better ability to multitask in stressful environments. Although meditation may not exactly be a cure to the common cold, studies have shown the mindful meditation training can reduce the length or severity of a cold by up to 50%. Other physical benefits of meditation include lower sensitivity to pain and weight control.
The beauty of these yoga and meditation techniques is that they can be practiced any time and anywhere. So the next time you find yourself stressed out and wanting an escape, whether you’re at home or at work, step back and take a deep breath. This simple act of better breathing could benefit your lungs and your mind, ultimately leading to a healthy home or office.