Your breath can do so much more than keep you alive. Here’s how to breathe consciously today

Breathing – it’s something not many of us give much thought to and, thankfully, we don’t have to in order to stay alive. The respiratory control centre at the base of your brain does it for you automatically – but there ends the science lesson for today. The spiritual yogis of ancient times have long known the power of breath control, and their wisdom is slowly making its way into the modern psyche. Breathwork is hailed by many as a fix all for health – it is said the right kind of breathing can boost your energy, focus and mood, help you sleep, calm you down and even balance hormones. So, how does it work? The breath is our interface between the mind and body. It is affected by, and in turn can affect, both the physical body and our mental state. Understanding how to breathe most efficiently and effectively can allow us to work on everything ranging from optimum physical performance through to poor posture. Here’s how to breathe right to get the best results for your needs:

To increase energy

Who hasn’t wanted to feel more alert when there is a busy day ahead and all you want to do is curl up and take a long nap? Try this next time you’re feeling sluggish: This technique comes from the Sufi tradition and is very helpful if you are feeling sleepy or groggy and in need a quick boost of energy. Take four quick and powerful inhales through the nose, progressively filling up your lungs more and more. Exhale out through pursed lips.

To reduce anxiety

Your heart is thumping and you’re gripped by panic – we’ve all been there, and the fight or flight response was useful in the days when we needed to escape predators. Nowadays, very often it just puts us in a state in which we can’t think straight. Try this breathing exercise next time you’re feeling anxious: It’s called box breathing and it can be really useful to use if you feel nervous before a meeting, a presentation or a performance. It’s called box breathing because the breath is broken down into four equal parts, like the sides of a square. The length of each part should be whatever feels comfortable to you. A good starting length is five seconds but you could make it even longer if you like!

• Start with empty lungs and breathe into your belly through your nose for a count of five seconds.

• Hold your breath for a count of five.

• Exhale for a count of five.

• Hold your breath for a count of five.

• Repeat this pattern for at least three minutes or until you have felt yourself fully calm down.

To balance hormones

Our delicate endocrine system can so easily be knocked out of whack. Breathing right can help get things back on track. It was once believed that we didn’t have any conscious control over our hormone system. But science has now proved that by using our breath we can alter the function of certain glands. The Wim Hof Method is a fantastic place to start to learn how to do this:

• Breathing in and out through your mouth, take 30 deep breaths focusing on breathing deep into your belly and just relaxing that exhale.

• On your 30th breath exhale out and hold your breath.

• Once you feel that you need to breathe, take a deep breath in and then hold your breath again for about 10 seconds

• Exhale and relax for a few seconds.

• That completes one round – you will repeat this three times in total.

• You may feel a little light headed or maybe even some tingling in your body. This is a totally normal feeling, just go at your own pace.

To get some sleep

We’ve all been there – tossing and turning, unable to nod off, dreading the impending day of tiredness ahead. Next time, try these exercises: To encourage a state conducive to sleep we would generally want to move ourselves into the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest mode). The simplest way to calm the mind is by working on developing a slower exhalation with a natural pause at the end of that exhalation. Follow every step of the breath with your attention, allow your body to be totally soft and relaxed and before you know it you’ll be out like a light.