The Art of Breathing Better
While you may think of breathing as one of the most deceptively simple activity, that does not even require mindful thinking; you may not be doing it correctly. Breathing is not merely a biological function; breathing is an art. James Nestor centers his book on this particular proposition in his NYT bestseller, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art.
Nestor's book dwells on a fascinating revelation on how humans breathe. He explores beyond the scientific ventures, and together with its biological understanding, he also enquires into its cultural, spiritual, and evolutionary history.
He indulged himself in talking to breathing experts and enthusiasts across the world. Nestor interviewed a female freediving instructor who told him, "There are as many ways to breathe as there are foods to eat." She further adds every manner of breathing affects the body differently.
According to Nestor, "The missing pillar in health is breath." Breathing correctly is key to stabilizing the nervous system, controlling immune response, and restoring health. Based on Nestor's book, here is an 8-step guide to help you breathe better.
Breathe Through Your Nose
Under the guidance of Dr. Jayakar Nayak, chief of rhinology and nasal and sinus surgeon, Nestor and his Swedish colleague, Anders Olsson, a breathing therapist, an experiment on themselves was performed to distinguish between the efficiency of nose breathing and mouth breathing.
The pair inserted silicone plugs into their nose to breathe solely through their mouths, then taping their mouths to breathe exclusively from their nose for the next ten days. In mouth breathing, their blood pressure and snoring increased steadily, and the oxygen levels significantly dropped.
In contrast, breathing through the nose brought about positive effects. The nose helps clean the air by filtering out contaminants and increasing oxygen with each breath, something that the mouth cannot do.
Over breathing can cause as much problem as under breathing. There should be a healthy oxygen flow within the body, and inhaling more oxygen can pressure your body systems. A relatively healthy person must practice inhaling less and exhaling more and longer.
In Nadi shodhana pranayama, a subtle energy clearing breathing technique, you concentrate on alternate nostril breathing. You need to inhale the air from the left nostrils, hold your breath, and then exhale it from the right one, which you can repeat with the alternate nostrils.
According to Nestor, inhaling through the right nostril helps speed the blood circulation, pumping more blood to the brain's opposite hemisphere that supports logical decision making and language capabilities. Breathing through the left nostril helps in lowering blood pressure and reducing anxiety. Based on what you are trying to achieve, you can activate a particular nostril.
Importance of Carbon Dioxide
You may not have thought it this way, but carbon dioxide is as much important as oxygen for your body. It plays the essential role of regulating blood pH, respiratory drive and separates oxygen from hemoglobin to transport it to body tissues and cells.
Nestor considers the breathing process similar to rowing a boat, i.e., fewer and longer strokes are more efficient in getting the boat moving rightly than zillion short and stilted strokes.
Increase Lung Capacity Slowly
The lung capacity tends to decrease as you grow older, but you can keep your lungs healthy with simple exercises like walking or cycling. Mindfully engaging your diaphragm and full exhaling can help you breathe better.
It will facilitate the expulsion of stale air and bring in fresh air to your lungs. Nestor suggests you take few deep and engaging breaths by doing a countdown from 1-10 while exhaling and inhaling.
In his guide to breathing, Nestor also adds the importance of mindful chewing, that is, to chew slowly and longer. Moreover, he suggests chewing hard textured gum to keep the molars moving.
The Perfect Breath
According to studies, the optimal breathing rate for humans is 5.5 breaths per minute. Nestor mentions this perfect breath formula in his book, which involves inhaling for 5.5-seconds followed by exhaling for 5.5-second. It results in 5.5 breaths per minute.
This formula also is an essential part of the prayer practices of various religions. Practicing such coherency in breathing for five to ten minutes per day can help the body attain equilibrium. For better synchronization of your breathing, you can download breathing apps on your mobile phones.
Different Breathwork Exercises
Nestor also includes the ancient Tibetan breath practice in his book, known as Tummo breathing. Monks generally practice it in Tibetan Buddhism. Its literal meaning is 'inner fire' and combines breathing with visualization techniques to help a person increase their 'inner heat.'
The generation of inner heat helps monks to keep their bodies warm in sub-zero temperatures. The various breathing techniques, including box breathing and the Buteyko technique, are frequently used for meditation and relaxation. These are excellent breathwork exercises.
Nestor's seminal book on breathing is thought-provoking as he elaborates on the art and science for breathing correctly. Respiration is a scintillating process, and Nestor's book will undoubtedly change how you think about your body and mind.