THE  SECRET OF BREATHING FOR HEALTH, ENERGY,
AND RELAXATION

By Michael Issacs,MSW, NCPsyA, JD

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METHOD: COMPLETE BREATH BY LEADING ON INHALE

After completing this method, you will experience how your body feels when you are in a deep breathing state. Your breathing and body will look like a cat or baby in peaceful sleep. You will be in the relaxation response mode.

This type of deep breathing has been called abdominal, complete, diaphragmatic, and belly breathing. For our purposes let us call it complete breathing.

This breathing method is similar to the belly exercise except the inhalation is extended to allow the entire front torso from the belly to the throat to expand.

In this two step process of inhalation and exhalation, in your mind’s eye, consider the inhalation to be step number one and the exhalation to be step number two.

Start out by slowly exhaling from the mouth as if you were blowing out a candle. This empties the lungs to pave the way for a deep inhalation. Relax the whole body, particularly the jaw, facial muscles, and shoulders. Inhale through the nose. On the inhalation the abdomen slowly rises up first, followed by gradual rising of ribs, middle chest, and upper chest. The last part of the inhalation is a slight rising of the neck and shoulder area. On the exhale, continue to breathe through the mouth as you started. The movement of the torso will be reversed. The neck and shoulders will gently lower first, followed gradually by upper chest, middle chest, ribs, and abdomen. The duration of the inhale and exhale breath should be approximately equal.

METHOD: COMPLETE BREATH BY LEADING ON EXHALE

This method is another way to move to complete breathing.

In your mind’s eye, the exhalation is step number one and the inhalation is step number two. There is a shift of emphasis to the exhale breath rather than the inhale breath.

The starting point is on the exhalation, which exhalation is through the mouth similar to the first method. Relax the whole body, particularly the jaw, facial muscles, and shoulders. Exhale as long as you are comfortable. The exhalation should be slow and smooth. When your lungs are almost empty, resist the any effort to inhale. Just relax the abdominal muscles. Allow the air to flow into the lungs with little effort as you inhale.

Note that this type of breathing requires little or no effort by the abdominal muscles, chest muscles, and ribs as sometimes occurs when leading with the inhale as described in the previous method.

LENGTHENING THE DURATION OF THE EXHALE

Whether you use either the initial inhale or initial exhale method you can drawing even more air into the lungs by consciously exhaling longer than inhaling.

The longer you can comfortably exhale, the more you rid the lungs of used air.  An extended exhalation creates a vacuum in the lungs allowing new air to flow in. Nature abhors a vacuum. The slower and longer the exhalation, the more air will be sucked into the lungs on inhalation. The idea is to focus on the exhalation and let the inhalation occur naturally.

If you are doing the inhale method focus, start the inhalation through the nose using some effort in the torso above the waist to pull in the air. Then do a long, slow, and smooth exhalation through the mouth. Do not be concerned with the duration of time spent in inhaling and exhaling.

If you are doing the exhale method focus, start with a slow exhalation through the mouth. When almost all the air is emptied from the lungs, relax the abdominal muscles and let the air fill the lungs for however long that takes.

Since a long exhalation is the key to emptying the lungs, you can now take the next step to devote more time exhaling than inhaling. The longer the exhalation the less time is necessary to inhale because of the vacuum theory. The slow exhalation when completed will quickly fill the lungs to capacity so that you can proceed swiftly to another exhalation. That power is in the exhale rather than the inhale is illustrated by weight lifters who exhale when lifting up the weights. Another example of exhale power is how the air force of a furnace bellows lights up the ashes in a fireplace.

A practical way to implement exhaling more than inhaling is by counting the breaths. Let us say that you are comfortable exhaling for four seconds. Half that number comes to two. So inhale for two seconds and exhale for four seconds.

As you increase your ability to exhale longer, you can lengthen the duration of the exhale. For example, if you can comfortably exhale for six counts, exhale six counts and   inhale two. How long the time duration of the exhalation relative to the inhalation will depend on your lung strength and whether you are doing it lying on your back, sitting, or walking.

There is another way to slow down the exhale time. In yoga it is called ujjayi breathing. Instead of breathing through the mouth, the breathing is predominantly nasal. However, it involves aspiration from the neck area, as though you were clearing your throat. Whereas mouth breathing can be noticed by others, this type of breathing is not because the lips do not move. Therefore, ujjayi has the advantage of being done while looking or listening to someone without them noticing.

Although yogi’s of old knew well about the importance of emphasizing the exhalation and counting, I was impressed with its practical application by bicycle champion and fitness instructor Ian Jackson in a mode of breathing which he labeled “breathplay”.8 He found that long exhalations and short inhalations markedly increase endurance. For our purposes it can be a technique for relaxation as well as energy.

Jackson called it breath play because he combined imagery with the breathing to reflect the power of the exhalation in a fun way. One such image is “neon spine”- your spine lights up as you exhale and goes off on inhalation.9Breathplay includes another dimension to bring more air into the lungs by pulling in lower abdominal muscles prior to the end of the exhalation


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