Breathe like a tortoise, live like a king

By Partha Pratim Bose, senior consultant, National Heart Institute, Founder, SAANS Foundation

More breathe per breath…. Tortoise breathing

Right breathing techniques are for optimum health. We breathe 20 per cent less oxygen as we grow older or when we are sedentary in our activities. There are benefits of “more breath per breath” through abdominal breathing. More breath per breath increases your oxygen delivery to vital organs and reduces oxidative stress which makes you calm and tranquil.

Abdominal breathing is parasympathetic; it decreases heart rate and relaxes you. Breathing pattern changes in different emotional situations. During anger our breath becomes chaotic, during depressive state our breath becomes sluggish and if we are anxious the breathing becomes rapid and shallow.

Our breathing centre is in the brain stem, the lower part of cerebrum, the thinking brain. We human beings breathe unconsciously throughout our lives. For example, breathing during deep sleep. But breathing in or inhalation is an effort. So we need to consciously breathe unconsciously; that’s the paradox. For example, during anger, if we take deep breaths and then take a pause, anger disappears because you change your breath from chest to abdomen pattern, that is converting sympathetic to parasympathetic way. Similarly during anxiety and depressive states if you take deep rapid breathing it increases your minute ventilation (ventilation per minute). This washes carbon dioxide, keeps you in respiratory alkalosis (increases pH of the body) and makes you feel tipsy.

Tortoise breath is a more breath per breath technique. The tortoise breathing exercise comes from the Chinese meditative practice known as Qigong or chi kung, which combines breathing and exercise to achieve a higher state of awareness. Tortoise breathing, also known as kuei hsi or “swallowing the breath” aims to mimic the slow, deliberate breathing of the tortoise, which is a symbol of longevity in China. Using the tortoise breathing technique, with time and practice we should be able to comfortably slow down your breathing rate to our three or four breaths per minute.

1. Begin by either sitting or lying down on your back. Take a long breath, inhaling slowly and deeply until you feel the air inside your neck.

2. Swallow your breath by taking the air in your neck and forcing it down, as if you were swallowing a piece of food.

3. Exhale deeply and slowly through your nostrils, not your mouth, immediately after swallowing. Repeat this inhale-swallow-exhale cycle seven times.

4. Swallow the saliva in your mouth following the seventh breath. Move your tongue around the inside of your mouth to collect it and swallow several times.

Benefits of deep conscious breathing are

1. Breath = life. The better (fuller) you breathe, the more energy you will have. Taking deeper breaths will bring in more oxygen into the body and improve your energy levels.

2. Deep breaths = less stress and better digestion. Slow deep breaths help to activate parasympathetic nervous system which is when the body gets the chance to recuperate, regenerate, and heal.. 

3. Deep breaths = less inflammation. Deep breathing is said to reduce the acidity level of the body making it more alkaline reducing your risk of infection

4. Deep breath = more awareness. The more awareness you have in the present moment, the more likely you are to connect with your intuition or internal teacher.  It is a matter of learning to listen to that voice and understand it.

5. Slower breaths = better relationships. Most relationships would be better if people were less reactive. Can you imagine if instead of saying something mean, you were able to mentally step back and chill before talking?

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