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How to do Conscious Breathing: A Complete Guide

how to do conscious breathing

Do you know conscious breathing is the single most important intervention that can make you happy and healthy? It can help you to release the energy blockages in your whole system.

In this article, we explain the benefits of conscious breathing and the art of purifying the 23000 breaths of the day. You will learn the key conscious breathing techniques like mindful breathing, yoga breathing and diaphragmatic breathing.

Power of Conscious Breathing

Power of Conscious Breathing

Breathing is normally an automatic process. It is subconsciously controlled by the respiratory center at the base of the brain, in the brain stem. This part of the brain controls the basic breathing mechanisms that keep us alive, and maintain our heartbeats.

In normal breathing, you don’t have to think about each step of your breath. Your brain automatically adjusts your breathing steps, just as your brain will occasionally insert a sigh when you need more oxygen.

We still breathe when we are unconscious, or asleep. People can also control their breathing when they wish, for example during speech, singing, or voluntary breathing exercises. Researchers observed that, breathing mindfully slower and deeper improves arterial oxygenation, cardiac output, and pulmonary gas-exchange efficiency.

What is the Science of Conscious Breathing?

The brain can be divided into two parts – the frontal brain and the posterior brain. The posterior brain is an instinctive brain that we have inherited through animal incarnations. The frontal brain is the center of total awareness. 

When you breathe unconsciously it is registered in the posterior brain, but when you are aware that you are breathing and you consciously witness the whole process, it is registered by the conscious brain, the frontal brain.

This difference seems very simple, but the effect is very powerful. Throughout life, you breathe unconsciously, as do animals, children and most other people, except for a few who have started practicing yoga. Now, in each case, the flow of prana is registered in the posterior brain as if on a computer. 

When you become aware of your breathing and you begin to do and control the breath in a certain way, immediately the forebrain registers the effect.

Researchers observed conscious breathing has a completely different beneficial effect on the brain than unconscious breathing. Inhaling through your nose is more beneficial than inhaling through your mouth, as nose breathing releases nitric oxide. The nitric oxide is then carried to your lungs and helps maintain homeostasis within the body. 

How conscious breathing is linked to parasympathetic nervous system?

Consciously changing the way you breathe sends a signal to the brain to adjust the parasympathetic (rest and digest) branch of the nervous system. Hence, every conscious exhalation you take slows the heart rate and promotes feelings of calm. On the other hand, unconscious breathing can lead to shallow breaths and the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which controls the release of stress hormones like cortisol. 

What is Mindful Breathing?

Mindful breathing is the practice of becoming aware of your breath and focusing on it. It does not involve trying to change the way you breathe. However, the act of focusing on the breath usually slows down breathing patterns, making you feel more relaxed.

How to do mindful breathing?

You can practice mindful breathing anywhere, while walking or doing meditation practices. The steps are as follows:

You just need to focus on your breath. The idea of mindful breathing is simply putting your attention on your in breath and out breath.  It is observing the natural rhythm of the breath and the flow each inhale and exhale.

As you focus on how air moves in and out through your lungs, mouth and nose, it becomes a form of calming meditation.

You can feel the natural flow of breath—in, out. You don’t need to do anything to your breath. Not long, not short, but natural. Notice where you feel your breath in your body.

It might be in your abdomen. It may be in your chest or throat or in your nostrils. See if you can feel the sensations of breath, one breath at a time. When one breath ends, the next breath begins.

You might notice that your mind may start to wander. Then gently redirect your attention right back to the breathing. Always offer yourself some appreciation for doing the mindfulness practice for today.

What are the best yoga breathing techniques?

Pranayama of yoga breathing is the fastest and most efficient way to recharge the life force energy (prana) system, thereby relaxing the body and mind.

The word pranayama is a compound word consisting of prana, which means life energy, and yama, means direction. When practicing yoga breathing with awareness, life force energy (prana) can be directed to the point of focus. 

Pranayama is an advanced yoga practice aimed at controlling the breath to become deeper and longer. When the inhalation and exhalation becomes slower, the breath becomes longer and thus prolongs life as opposed to when the breath is shorter.

Kapalbhati Pranayama and the Bhastrika Pranayama are the King and Queen of yoga breathing.  

What is Bhastrika Pranayama?

Bhastrika Pranayama is the process of rapid inhalation and exhalation which gives a boost to the body and hence is aptly called the yogic breath of fire.  This breathing exercise is called the ‘bellows breath’.

Bhastrika means bellow-breathing. It involves first and quick breathing, both inhalation and exhalation are forced, active and quick. The movement of the belly along with every breath is an optional variation. So bellows breathing is all about inhaling and exhaling completely so that our body gets a sufficient amount of oxygen.

However, in Kapalbhati Pranayama, exhalation is active, which is forced, short and quick but inhalation is passive and natural.

Bhastrika Pranayama

Bhastrika Pranayama

What are the basic steps of Bhastrika Pranayama?

For  Bhastrika Pranayama take a series of short, deep breaths. Activate your diaphragm, pull the air right down into your belly, let the chest fall. Repeat 30-40 times. Feeling a little floaty? Fingers tingling? Don’t worry. It’s just oxygen saturating your cells.

Now take a big breath, then expel all the air from your lungs and hold it. Relax, you’ll be fine.  That slight feeling of panic? It’s nothing to worry about. You might be surprised how long you can push it before you have to take a huge gasp.

What are the Benefits of Bhastrika Pranayama?

The key benefits of Bhastrika Pranayama is as follows:

  1. Good for brain oxygenation.
  2. Improves the nervous and the motor system.
  3. Energize the body and the mind
  4. Good for people with depression and anxiety
  5. Great for lungs and people who suffer from repetitive cough, flu, respiratory issues, allergies or breathlessness
  6. Enhances immunity.

What is diaphragmatic breathing?

When a three-year-old breathes, their tummy goes in and out. Same with animals. But at a certain point we started breathing “vertically”. That’s how we’re designed to breathe when we face genuinely stressful situations. Diaphragmatic breathing is breathing like a baby. 

Diaphragmatic breathing is also called “abdominal breathing” or “belly breathing”. It involves fully engaging the stomach, abdominal muscles, and diaphragm when breathing. This means actively pulling the diaphragm down with each inward breath. In this way, diaphragmatic breathing helps the lungs fill more efficiently.

What is the Diaphragm?

The diaphragm, a dome-shaped sheet of muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdomen, is the most important muscle used for breathing in (called inhalation or inspiration). The diaphragm is attached to the base of the sternum, the lower parts of the rib cage, and the spine. As the diaphragm contracts, it increases the length and diameter of the chest cavity and thus expands the lungs. The intercostal muscles help move the rib cage and thus assist in breathing.

Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing

How to do diaphragmatic breathing?

  • Lie on your back on a flat surface or in bed. You can use a pillow under your head and your knees for support, if that’s more comfortable.
  • Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly, just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.
  • Breathe in slowly through your nose, letting the air in deeply, towards your lower belly. The hand on your chest should remain still, while the one on your belly should rise.
  • Tighten your abdominal muscles and let them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips. The hand on your belly should move down to its original position.

You can also practice this sitting in a chair, with your knees bent and your shoulders, head, and neck relaxed. Practice for five to 10 minutes, several times a day if possible.

Summary

In summary, we discussed the three powerful conscious breathing techniques: mindful breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, and yoga breathing techniques.

Poor breathing patterns can lead to depressions, anger, emotional instability and health problems. Conscious breathing can help you to come out of that. 

Apply the principles outlined here and grow your emotional intelligence, health and resilience

Remember, it may not work on the first try, but continuing conscious breathing practices can deliver amazing results. 

Success on conscious breathing comes with time and practice, so get out there and start now.