Published in City Times
Breathe your way to wellness
Do you experience body pains more in the neck, shoulders or back? Do you suffer from headaches, stomach pains, digestive or sleep disorders, experience tightness about the chest and palpitations, difficulty in breathing? Do you feel lethargic, irritable and lack enthusiasm for doing anything? If your response is positive to these questions, then you are probably suffering from stress!
The heartening fact is conscious breathing or Breath Therapy, can help you eliminate stress, says Hilary Adele, Breath and Yoga Therapist, Dubai Community Health Centre, Umm Suqueim.
We are all breathing; why then a Breath therapy or conscious breathing?
Hilary: True, we are all breathing. But are we breathing in a healthy way? There are certain breathing indicators: Do you breathe from your chest or from your abdomen? Do you breathe in longer than you breathe out? Do you breathe fast? Does your breathing feel shallow and heavy? Do you get breathless easily when you talk or walk? Your breath is the most important nourishing factor for your body. Your body needs the right amount of oxygen to keep cells alive and healthy. 80% of toxins in your body come out through your breath. Your mind and emotions are connected to the way you breathe.
What is the scope of Breath Therapy or conscious breathing?
Hilary: The natural way of breathing is from the abdomen, not from the chest as most of us do. By subconsciously changing your breathing pattern, you stop the body from being in an oxygen starvation mode. Your heart beats according to the oxygen consumption of your body. Deep breathing slows down your heart rate, regulates your blood pressure, relaxes tense muscles, improves digestion, increases blood circulation, improves sleep/energy cycles and balances your mind and emotions. Above all conscious breathing strengthens your immune system.
How exactly does it boost the immune system?
Hilary: When you breathe out, you are expelling 80% of accumulated toxins from the body. A normal person breathes in and out at the rate of 16-18 respirations per minute. A sick person breathes faster, shallower and harder. When we are doing the breathing technique, it means we are breathing consciously in a specific way from the body. In doing so, we throw out more toxins and take in more oxygen. However, the natural retention of oxygen in our body is very little. But when we breathe consciously, from the abdomen rather than from the chest, the higher oxygen content that we take in, rejuvenates the cells of the body and helps the metabolic process in the body to convert food to energy and break up fat within the body. So when you are breathing in more oxygen and getting rid of more toxins, the immune system is obviously impacted on in a positive way and is therefore boosted. Someone who practices breathing exercises regularly, will be able to ward off the common ailments like colds, headaches, indigestion and many other disorders. In the long term, regular breathing exercise can bring respiration down to anything between 5 – 7 per minute as opposed to the otherwise normal rate of 16 respirations per minute.
Are these breathing techniques structured in a specific pattern or are they individualized as per client’s needs?
Hilary: It is individualized when we are dealing with people having severe problems and when it depends on how far a person wants to go into the breathing therapy. There are eight different techniques for different types of people and people can start off with the one they want.
If we are talking of swamis in India, they use breath therapy for elevating themselves to a spiritually higher plane where there is self-realisation. Let me emphasize that this does not involve any religion or religious beliefs. When I refer to the spiritual, I am referring to the evolution of the human to a higher level where he becomes more aware of himself. When you become AWARE, you automatically become more alert to situations and your reflexes and responses are sharpened in whatever you do; you don’t have to think to act – you naturally respond. The best thing about breath therapy is that it changes you in a natural way.
So the therapy works on all planes of the human being?
Hilary: Yes. It impacts the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level of people.
Does this mean that Breath Therapy has an answer to physical ailments that may not necessarily be stress-related?
Hilary: Yes. The therapy helps to stimulate the various bodily organs and there are some techniques for specific organs and practicing these techniques will helps those organs to function better. The whole mechanism works by supplying more oxygen to the cells and eliminating more toxins from the body. It stimulates the different organs which are weighed down by different diseases. Even if you are healthy, breath therapy will give you some benefits and maintain your healthy status.
What ages of people may practice Breath Therapy?
Hilary: There is no age bar to the therapy. I teach even five year olds the techniques in a playful way. The therapy is for everybody.
Can pregnant women benefit from Breath Therapy?
Hilary: Yes. There are specific breathing techniques which aid pregnant women deliver easily and comfortably.
When we talk of Breath Therapy in a therapeutic sense, is the therapy time bound in the sense of effecting healing?
Hilary: This again is very much individual-dependent, in the sense are the individuals practicing it regularly. It also depends on how quickly it moves in their body. All I can say is, you do the practice, trust what you are doing, observe yourself and then things will start to change.
How visible or evident are these changes? Do they have a physical manifestation?
Hilary: The first effects that most people will observe is a sense of calmness, of being energized and feeling relaxed and this includes a state of deep sleep in many individuals. Talking of the long term effects, in my own case, I started noticing changes in my skin and my eyes became brighter, more awake. Also, I was able to get rid of the fluid retention which I’d had for some time. A number of my clients lost weight after practicing breath therapy for about six weeks. So the changes and their manifestations are again entirely individualistic.
How long should a single practice session of breath therapy last?
Hilary: This varies, depending upon how deep you have to go into it. In the beginning, you take about 10 – 15 minutes, with breathing and relaxation, alternating the two. You are breathing in different ways within the body, through the body, using different techniques for a certain length of time, followed by relaxation time. On an average, fifteen minutes of therapy in a day, should be fine.
Is there a particular time of the day when it should be done?
Hilary: Yoga practitioners may insist on the therapy being done before sunrise or just before sunset. But we do not insist on specific times but leave it to the clients’ convenience. However, ideally, it may be best done before people embark on their day’s work. Also, breath therapy should not be done on a full stomach. It is best done on empty stomach or at least after the food is well digested, about three hours after meals. Also, if someone is having problems with sleep, I would not advise them to practice breathing therapy in the evening because it has the effect of energizing the individuals and we don’t want people to be awake all night.