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Sunday, January 29, 2012

15: More About Breathing

Here are a few more brief thoughts on breathing. This article will not be going in the newspaper, because except for those for whom breathing exercises hold particular interest, you'll be saying, "Enough already." In addition to sharing a few finer points, I want to attach a comment that came to me via email, and really, it's much more than a comment.

I stated in both previous breathing articles that the exhale should be through the mouth, through pursed lips, to create a little back-pressure and allow more time for oxygen to absorb in the lungs. However, I have wondered about this as I have practiced it: sometimes it makes me feel more light-headed, which is one of the very things I'm trying to alleviate; also, I don't find it as restful as quietly exhaling through my nose.

But it seems to have been a good place to start: it's much easier to make the exhale last to the full count when controlling it through the lips in that way. Now that I've established a bit of a sense of the rhythm of deep breathing, I can more easily control the exhale through my nose. Interesting that the attached comment says the following: "This will be the hard part – controlling the breath while you breathe out. But this is where the real benefit is."

This reader had talked to me by phone and mentioned that "in yoga, the breathing is always through the nose." Her statement caused me to think more about the way I had been exhaling. Then she talked about a different breathing exercise, which was, she said, rather complicated but very beneficial. She said it involved breathing through one nostril at a time and holding the other nostril shut with the fingers of the opposite hand.

"Hey," I said to her, "I came across something about that in my online research. I think it said that it strengthens integration between the left and right brains."

"That's right," she said, but then she went on to say that she couldn't remember very much about it and would have to look it up. And she obviously did, because several days later I received a very concise and detailed explanation of how to do this. As I feel it would be of interest and benefit to some of my readers, I have posted it below as a comment. Thank you, "Anonymous," for going to this trouble!

Here is another portion of a comment, this one from a friend named Karen. "My past yoga instructors and other 'breathing experts!' have recommended that you push out your belly on the in-breath and draw the belly back in on the out-breath. This breathing helps for those wake-up-can't-get-back-to sleep times too." Karen is an RHN who writes a very good blog, decorated beautifully with relevant photos ( Someday I'm going to get around to trying her recipe for power bars.

There's one other thing that I've written about and subsequently wondered about: if humming is good for producing (15 times!) more of the beneficial compound nitric oxide (previous post), how can I incorporate this into my breathing exercises? Well, you sure can't if you're exhaling through your mouth. So exhale through your nose and hum. (I like to hum a slowly descending chromatic scale, but that's just me!)And then the question begs: If the nitric oxide is produced as you hum on the exhale, aren't you losing all that nitric oxide? My husband was just asking me this question in a phone call a few minutes ago, saying to me, "It's almost impossible to hum while you inhale. Try it!" he said, and then I heard these strange noises in the receiver.

"I've thought about that, hon," I said, after I got him quieted down. "When you finish humming and exhaling, your nasal cavities are full of that good gas, and as soon as you begin your next inhalation, it goes right to your lungs."

He thought maybe the nitric oxide would be all around your head after the exhale, and that way you could breathe it in again. "But," he said, "you'd have to stay out of the wind."

I told him maybe he should just stick his head inside a paper bag. He told me he thought God never intended breathing to be this complicated.

And this is the reason why I thought I shouldn't publish this article in the newspaper.

1 comment:

  1. Hi there

    After we talked yesterday I thought I would send you some directions for this breathing technique to try. It seems complicated but it does not take long to get the hang of it.

    Try sitting on the floor cross-legged for this, on a pillow if that helps. It is very calming to sit on the floor rather than ‘up’ somewhere. If you can face out the window to somewhere beautiful even better.

    1. Hold your right hand up in front of you, palm facing you. Fold down the first two fingers into the palm and hold them with the thumb, leaving the other two fingers 3 and 4 sticking up. Other hand is on the knee.

    2. Now release the thumb, letting it point up too, but keep your first 2 fingers folded down.

    3. Now try pinching your nose shut using your thumb on the right side, and fingers 3 and 4 on the other. Your hand will feel crunched up but that does not matter.

    4. Release the thumb side and breathe in (not too full, about 75%) , then out. Close the thumb side, open the finger side, and breathe in and out again on that side. Repeat a few time to get the hang of it, then try holding your breath for a few seconds on the in-breath.

    5. Once you have repeated a few times and you are starting to feel like the movements seem easier, try the counting. Take a few breaths in and out, then breathe out to begin. Look down slightly with the eyes, so the focus is inward.

    6. Hold the right nostril shut with your thumb, breathe in for a count of 3 (these are 1-second counts like 1-mississippi, or 1-one-thousand, 2-one-thousand etc). Pinch both nostrils shut and hold for a count of 12. Then release the other side, the thumb side/right side, and breathe out for a count of 6.

    7. This will be the hard part – controlling the breath while you breath out. But this is where the real benefit is.

    8. On the same side (right/thumb side) breathe in for a count of 3. Pinch shut, hold for a count of 12, release the fingers (left side) and breathe out to a count of 6. That’s one whole round, breathing in and out on each side.

    9. To start with try 6 rounds, or 10 rounds – whatever feels comfortable. At the end rest both hands on the knees and just sit quietly, observe the breath, let the mind be still.

    10. Once you get used to this you can start increasing the counts – in for 4, hold for 16, out for 8 – so the ratio is always the same. And then you can increase again – to 6, 24, 12, etc. Try doing more rounds, whatever you have time for.

    In yoga we talk about ‘monkey mind’ – where the left/rational side of the brain always needs something (verbal) to chew on, and it bounces around latching onto things in a way that can seem really frantic. In this exercise the monkey mind gets bored and shuts off after a few minutes, leaving you feeling really empty and peaceful.

    I hope you try it – let me know how you get on!