Inhale right, live better

In today’s busy life, a constant race against time continually causes an unhealthy amount of stress.

Inhale right, live better

singhking99@yahoo.com

Dr J P Singhvi

In today’s busy life, a constant race against time continually causes an unhealthy amount of stress. Chronic stress leads to many lifestyle diseases. These are commonly caused due to lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating habits, inadequate sleep, alcohol, drug and smoking abuse, in addition to chronic stress. Some of the prevalent ones are hypertension, heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, acidity, chronic fatigue syndrome, psychosomatic diseases, etc. These diseases manifest at physical level, if the body, and more importantly, the mind is unable to cope with stress.

Chronic stress can lead to anger, anxiety and frustration, excess of stress hormones, chemicals, oxidative stress, and dysfunction of immune system. 

Well being of one’s mind and body, is linked to breath. It is practically impossible to control the mind directly, however, if one can control the breath, mind can be tamed.

There have been many studies proving that breath is connected to our state of mind and our wellbeing. When you are feeling calm or happy, your breathing slows and deepens which produces a relaxing effect. Conversely, when you are feeling frightened, in pain, or tense, your breathing speeds up and becomes shallower. The body’s reactions to stress is now activated. 

The state of the body affects emotions. Breathing, in particular, can affect state of mind. Our brain and breath are connected. The mind stress is directly connected with imbalances in right and left brain. 

Left brain is responsible for logic, speech and analysis while the right brain controls creativity, art, intuition and holistic thinking.

Most of us are left-brain oriented. It can create right-left brain imbalance, as the right brain is hardly active. This leads to imbalance in our autonomic nervous system and consequently lifestyle diseases. To overcome this right-left brain imbalance and eliminate accumulated stress and negative emotions, following a few simple measures daily can decrease anxiety and keep us and calm. These include awareness about eating right in terms of quality, quantity and timing, listening to soft classical music including instrumental music. One can even learn music to keep the right brain activated and functioning.

Yoga is another important tool for a disease-free body and stress-free mind. A focus on controlled breathing is integral to yoga and can induce relaxation. Increasing scientific evidence shows that breathing techniques are effective against anxiety, stress and sleeping disorders. These influence both physiological factors (by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system) and psychological factors (by diverting attention from thoughts). 

A breathing technique called nadi-shodhan pranayama (anulom-vilom) is a popular yoga practice. It is called cardiac coherence breathing in west as researchers who studied its effect on heart, found it helped to decrease anxiety and chronic stress and stabilise the heartbeat. Other breathing techniques like Sudarshan kriya have a positive effect on areas of brain like amygdala and hippocampus, responsible for emotions, survival instincts, and memory.

Nadi-Shodhan Pranayama

  • Sit comfortably with back and neck straight, shoulders relaxed and eye closed throughout. 
  • Place your left hand on the left knee, palm-up with tips of thumb and index touching. 
  • Place the tip of the index finger and middle finger of the right hand in between the eyebrows very lightly, the ring finger on the left nostril, and the thumb on the right nostril. Use the ring finger to open or close the left nostril and thumb for the right nostril.
  • Close the right nostril with thumb and breathe out gently through the left nostril.
  • Now breathe in from the left nostril and then press the left nostril gently with the ring finger. Removing the right thumb from the right nostril, breathe out from the right. Breathe in from the right nostril and exhale from the left. 
  • This is one round of nadi-shodhan pranayama.
  • Inhalation should be long, deep, smooth breaths (5-7 seconds) without any force or effort. Exhalation should be equal or slightly longer than inhalation. Continue inhaling and exhaling from alternate nostrils.
  • Complete 10 rounds by alternately breathing through both the nostrils. After every exhalation, remember to breathe in from the same nostril from which you exhaled and continue.

Note:  Each and every step is to be done gently. Do it twice a day, followed by 5 minutes of relaxation with closed eyes every time.

Benefits

  • Mind becomes calm and centred, leading to stress reduction, emotion control, improved attention and improvement in chronic stress. 
  • Helps to maintain blood pressure, strengthens the heart and improves respiratory problems.
  • Helps harmonise the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and thus stabilises the autonomic nervous system by strengthening vagus nerve.
  • Maintains body temperature.
  • Regulates sleep and prevents insomnia.
  • Help to counter the accumulation of physical tension associated with stress.

—The writer is senior consultant, neurology, Fortis Hospital, Mohali

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