There are many different types of breathing techniques, or pranayamas, and especially for beginners it can be difficult to choose the right one. There are fast and stimulating breathing techniques that can even lead to hyperventilation and there are slow, calming techniques.
When you are just beginning to implement pranayama into your daily routine, it is recommended to start with gentle techniques. Lower abdominal breathing is a great, gentle technique which helps you to deepen your inward attention.
Benefits of Abdominal Breathing
Abdominal or diaphragmic breathing is a great tool to soothe the body and refresh the mind. Take a little time every day to calm your mind and to tune in with your body for a few minutes. Examine whether you are holding any stress, tension or anxiety, which you can resolve the practice of conscious breathing into your lower abdomen.
Abdominal breathing is a relaxing exercise which can help you to look at yourself, your world, with a new perspective. It is important to find time for our own conscious practice and for active relaxation.
Breathing Exercise as Time to Rest
When it comes to rest and relaxation, we usually imagine putting our feet up and snuggling up on the couch in a comfortable position. If your legs are tired or your back is sore, this might be a good solution to give them some rest, but what about your chest, your diaphragm and abdominal muscles?
This area is often overlooked, when we are consciously resting. Yet because of the strong link between stress and tension in the upper body, it would be important to actively seek rest and relaxation for all muscles involved.
Due to stress and a fast-paced life adults usually breathe into the chest rather than the lower abdomen. That’s why the diaphragm – a large muscle that separates the lungs from the abdominal cavity – is blocked. The tension in the diaphragm can make breathing shallow, resulting in the whole body feeling anxious and tense.
During the day, as pressure and stress increase, tipping over increases so does abdominal tension. Lower abdominal breathing which moves and releases the diaphragm and abdominal muscles, can work against this effect, leaving you feeling relaxed and comfortable after practice.
Abdominal breathing not only relaxes the muscles but it also has a calming effect on the mind. With conscious breathing, the nervous system changes from sympathetic (fighting or stress mode) to parasympathetic (rest and digestion).
In combat mode, adrenaline flows and the cortisol stress hormone soars. Deep breathing sends a signal to the brain to enter a mode of rest and digestion, which creates a state of balance in the body, reducing stress, irritability and emotional instability. We wrote more about our tips to boost your immune system.
How to Practice Abdominal Breathing
Practicing abdominal breathing does not require any special equipment or a lot of time. For best results, choose a quiet location away from all electrical devices. Ideally you should wear comfortable, loose clothes. The practice described below is ideal for beginners. Once you are comfortable with the foundation of this breathing technique, you can practice it anytime and anywhere.
First, find a comfortable seating position, be it on the floor or on a chair. Sit with your back straight, so that the flow of the breath is not disrupted by improper posture. You can support your back with pillows, if needed.
To begin, observe your natural breathing that flows through your nose for a few minutes and become aware of the dilation and contraction of the abdomen. Place one hand on the lower abdomen and the other on the chest.
Use your hands to feel and become aware of the movement of your chest and the abdomen while breathing in and out. Especially for beginners this is useful to make sure that you actually breathe all the way into your abdomen. Once your are comfortable in your practice, you can rest your hands on your legs or on your sides.
Once you are breathing into your abdomen and are comfortable with it, you can increase the duration of your inhalations and exhalations. But your breathing should be free and smooth, do not force anything. It is essential that you relax.
When you inhale, you can feel how your muscles expand, how your lungs fill and how you gently push the air down into your abdomen. If you sense any resistance, try to loosen it up with your attention.
It is important to be gentle and careful. Don’t force anything during your practice. You want to relax your body and mind through conscious breathing, not add any more tension.
As exhale and your lungs empty, gently contract your abdomen, pulling the navel back towards your spine. Repeat this breathing cycle for at least five minutes. Gentle, slow inhalation through the nose, engaging the lower abdomen. Then, by pulling the navel inward, exhale slowly.
Focus on the sensations in your abdomen during this exercise. Everything should feel natural and comfortable. Once you have mastered this technique, you will see that abdominal breathing will never be forced and it will be available to you as a relaxation tool anytime.
Prana in Ayurveda
In Ayurveda, breathing (or prana) is the air that ignites the fire of digestion. The basic laws of chemistry have taught us that combustion cannot occur without oxygen. Take, for example, when we light a fire, and it will not ignite without proper airflow.
According to Ayurveda the same is true for our bodies. Our digestive system needs enough oxygen to metabolize food into energy. The practice of lower abdominal breathing increases this flow and ignites the digestive fire (agni) in the stomach.
Practicing abdominal breathing just a few minutes per day can have a huge impact on your mental and physical health as well as your capacity to cope with stress. And since you can do it really anywhere – be it in the office, on public transport or on your couch – there is really no reason why you shouldn’t try!
Abdominal breathing is often practiced at the end or at the beginning of a yoga session, so check out the best yoga studios in Budapest and combine it with some physical exercise! Many studios currently even offer online classes, so you can do it all from the comfort of your home.