Just Breathe

Mindful breathing can help intensify relaxation and facilitate meditation. | Illustration: Shaylene Brooks

Mindful inhalation and exhalation can enhance both physical and mental well-being.

By Debra Bokur

During stressful situations, it’s common to hear the suggestion to “just take a deep breath.” As it turns out, a wealth of research supports the wisdom of that advice. The path to healthy living may very well begin in your lungs—and the best way to access that path is by incorporating regular breathwork into your daily activities, or even approaching it as a dedicated exercise of its own.

The consistent practice of deep, rhythmic abdominal breathing, called “pranayama” in yoga, results in proven chemical changes in the brain and body that lower blood pressure, reduce stress and promote feelings of well-being. In addition to calming, anxiety-relieving perks, Sea Island’s Fitness Programming and Training Manager Martha Walker says that some breathing techniques even have the ability to increase energy and potentially alleviate depression.

An experienced Yoga Alliance certified instructor who studied the practice of pranayama in India, Walker points out that the many physiological benefits of breathing exercises stem from improved circulation and enhanced delivery of oxygen throughout the body.

“At Sea Island, all of our yoga and stretching classes incorporate breathing techniques for centering and relaxation,” she notes. “Our spa massage therapists also use breathing techniques to help guests relax so that therapists are able to go a little deeper into delivering body work.”

One basic breathing technique is to inhale deeply, allowing the abdomen to expand, and to exhale fully and slowly as the abdomen collapses. In meditation, mindful breathing can help intensify relaxation and facilitate the achievement of a meditative state.

“I don’t think breathwork or pranayama is necessarily more effective combined with yoga or meditation, but in our busy world, it’s helpful to have an all-inclusive practice,” Walker says. “Yoga, for instance, offers breathwork, meditation and physical practice all in one, which can be helpful to those with limited time to devote to a mindfulness practice.”

This April, The Fitness Center at Sea Island will offer a workshop led by Walker called The Art of Breathwork. Meanwhile, those who are curious about breathing exercises can learn more about pranayama, breathwork and meditation via smartphone apps that lead both beginners and advanced practitioners through routines designed to build breathing and other wellness skills.

Apps to try include philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris’ Waking Up course, which includes guided meditations of various lengths that are supplemented by conversations and mindfulness lessons; The Breathing App, a breath-specific program developed by wellness experts Deepak Chopra and Eddie Stern as well as musician Moby; and Headspace, a collection of resources that include guided sessions, videos and articles created by Andy Puddicombe, an author and former Buddhist monk who also studied sports science.

Whether you choose to use an app, visit a class at Sea Island or try both, breathing techniques are sure to offer myriad benefits that will leave you happier and healthier.


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