Let us briefly introduce a subject that is absolutely breath-taking in scope and import - although many fail to fully realize this fact.
The average individual can survive at least three or four weeks without food, three or four days without water but - not more than a couple of minutes without air.
If you trace the origins of the word 'breath' throughout various cultures you'll discover that it is synonymous with the meanings for "soul" and "life". The air we inhale is dual in nature - material and non-material energy which is utilized to stimulate our blood cells and our autonomic nervous system. This VITAL LIFE FORCE recharges the devitalized blood with a positive polarity.
Most people do not breathe properly (using only 30 - 40 percent of their lung capacity). Their inhalations are shallow and this does not completely vitalize the blood (giving them that lethargic feeling). And when we add our pestilent planet into the mix (pollution etc. courtesy of industrial man) then it's no big surprise that tens of thousands die every year from causes related to bad air and the toxic ooze that inhabits the bottom of the lungs. The percentage of people with asthma and bronchitis is also increasing with each passing year.
Deep breathing abstracts the stale/mephitic air that resides at the bottom of our lungs and that is slowly infecting our cells. It also has a very beneficial impact on us - on our blood pressure, our mental agility and our general sense of well-being. Before we list a few conscious breathing exercises let us review a few basic facts and suggestions.
There are various types of breathing exercises that are used by students of yoga, meditation and other disciplines to attain transcendent states of consciousness. However, we will start with a few fundamental and fairly well known practices and the curious / advanced students out there can graduate to a more varied regimen at their leisure - and that information is out there for all serious seekers.
It is also important to note that anyone debilitated with respiratory / heart conditions / cardiac disorders of any type should solicit advice from their physicians - not because breathing exercises per se are deleterious but because certain metabolisms may simply not be able to take advantage of them.
A. Sit comfortably in a chair, your spine as straight as possible and your hands on your lap. Inhale slowly and deeply and hold the breath for as long as you can without strain. Initially this may be 15 - 20 seconds. With continued practice you may want to hold your breath for 30 - 60 seconds. Again, you are not trying to set any records (so there's no reason to extend this time period).
As you hold your breath focus your concentration on your left foot. Visualize/feel the Vital Life Force saturating it with positive energy. With the next breath shift your attention to your right foot. Then alternate all the way up your body with each inhalation (left ankle, right ankle, left shin, right shin, left knee, right knee, left thigh, right thigh, groin area, stomach and then all the way up to your crown chakra at the top of your head). This could take 30 or more minutes and, if you've never done it before, leave you with a tingling sensation that permeates your entire physical being. You can also complete the entire exercise in ten minutes (right leg, left leg, groin, solar plexus, chest, right arm, left arm, neck and head).
B. Same technique as above - only this time - after you inhale deeply expel your breath right away, slowly through the nose until all the air has been pushed out (with the assistance of your stomach muscles). Now hold and concentrate as in Exercise A. You will probably discover that you cannot hold an exhalation as long as you can an inhalation - which is perfectly normal. Never strain - and breathe in and out at a comfortable pace.
C. Exercises don't necessarily have to be performed at home. If you're outside waiting for the bus, for example, try the following.
Breathe in deeply as you mentally count to five. Now hold for the same count of five. Exhale while counting to five. Hold for five again and then resume the process of inhalation, holding, exhalation, holding. Find the right rhythm for yourself. Personalize and then change the cadence as you see fit (i.e. breathe in mentally counting to five, hold for a mental count of ten, exhale for a count of five, hold for a count of ten). The exercise can last for a few minutes - or as long as it takes for the darn bus to finally show up.
D. Alternate nostril breathing is a common exercise in many disciplines - including yoga - to improve the cerebral process and just simply to relax and de-stress the body.
Close the right nostril with your right thumb and breathe in through your left nostril. Do it while mentally counting to five. Immediately use your right forefinger to close the left nostril, remove your thumb from the right nostril and exhale through that nostril to the count of five.
Now inhale through the same right nostril to a count of five, close it with your right thumb and exhale through the left, removing your forefinger. Do this a half dozen times initially and see how you feel.
If you are feeling comfortable and decide to continue this exercise on a regular basis you can then again increase inhalation / exhalation times. Various books on Yoga go into specifics on this exercise and others and we should caution you that advanced stages of certain disciplines should be practiced with the guidance of someone who has been trained and knows what there're doing.
Forced breathing will not benefit you so, one more time, if your nasal passages are blocked - do not proceed with any of the above.
Get into a routine of doing breathing exercises regularly and I promise you - in no time at all you'll be walking on air.