Breathing: The Right Way

Breathing in, I calm the body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment.   

I love this quote by Thich Nhat Hanh. If you asked me why, I’d tell you that’s all because lately, the science of breathing has taken over my life. Quite literally.

For the past 25 odd days, I’ve been on a break from active blogging and most of social media to devote time exclusively for reclaiming my health. For the most part, it has meant getting more deeply involved with yoga and breathing exercises, and meditation. During this time, I’ve experienced a sense of calm and energy, in a way that has never happened before.

We all know that breath is essential to life. It is the first thing we do when we are born into this world and the last thing we do when we leave. And, even though we know that in between that time, we take about half a billion breaths, we often fail to realize the extent to which the mind, body, and breath are intimately connected and how they influence each other.

Our breathing is influenced by our thoughts, and our thoughts and physiology can be influenced by our breath.

I have been already into yoga and meditation for almost a year, but somewhere along the way, I felt I was not getting the optimal benefits that I was so actively seeking out of the whole exercise. Over the past few months, our son, A has been falling ill rather too frequently, which has thrown me into a tizzy, with apprehensions and worries with regard to how his immunity has been compromised and how his body is struggling to fight infections, as a consequence. What was making things worse was the way I was dealing with stress and the regular everyday pressures of life, always multi-tasking and juggling far too many things than I could handle. During my yoga sessions every morning, I’d find that my breathing would often be shallow and rapid, and there was a certain shortness of breath – a typical fallout of the feelings of anxiety or frustration. All I was getting was an adrenaline rush, that was raising my blood pressure and pulse rate, revving me up to a state of high alert.

89b9d6f94a8c87481e37120faf5e5f1aI knew instinctively that I had to do something about this. My first step was to cut myself off from daily distractions and focus instead on practicing deep breathing daily, not just for the mandatory 30 minutes a day but twice a day. Taking an hour aside every morning to focus on oneself was not easy but one had to do it. That meant dropping most of the things that were usually high on my priority list, for the time being.

Now, when I look back, it was perhaps the best decision ever. I cannot stress enough how beneficial deep breathing proved in helping me to diffuse all that turbulence. Consequently, there was less reactivity on the emotional levels. Fitness and mobility were no doubt enhanced, but something interesting happened to me during these yoga sessions that I think I must share with you. Every day, I found myself slipping into a trance-like state while being immersed in the deep breathing exercises, particularly towards the end. To my surprise, it was happening rather effortlessly – something that made me look forward to these sessions rather eagerly. This surge of sheer bliss and happiness came from the sense of calm, staying with me through the course of the day, filling me with energy, a new-found vigour and positivity, far beyond what I’ve ever experienced earlier.

Today, I’m happy to share a few rhythmic deep breathing techniques, that are simple to practice daily and leave some very positive and lasting effects on the mind and body.

If you haven’t done already, try these two breathing exercises, every morning for 5 minutes initially, then gradually increasing to 10 mins. It is preferable that you do these on an empty stomach. Sit with your spine and neck erect, back straightened,  in a well-ventilated room. Ensure there are no disturbances around. Switch off your phone or keep it on mute. Bring a pleasant smile to your face, relax your facial muscles, gently close your eyes and take five deep breaths. Inhale and exhale slowly, (to the count of 10 respectively).

‘Nadi Shuddhi’ is very effective when you are feeling anxious, and helps by inducing a sense of calm immediately. To do it:

  • Hold your right thumb over your right nostril and inhale deeply through your left nostril.
  • At the peak of your inhalation, close off your left nostril with your fourth finger, lift your right thumb, and then exhale smoothly through your right nostril.
  • After a full exhalation, inhale through the right nostril, closing it off with your right thumb at the peak of your inhalation, lift your fourth finger and exhale smoothly through your left nostril.
  • Continue with this practice for 3 to 5 minutes, alternating your breathing through each nostril. Your breathing should be effortless, with your mind gently observing the flowing in and out of your breath.

If, on the other hand, you feel angry, irritated, or frustrated, a cooling pranayama such as ‘Ujjayi will immediately soothe and settle your mind. To do this-

  • Inhale slightly deeper than normal. With your mouth closed, exhale through your nose while constricting your throat muscles. If you are doing this correctly, you should sound like waves on the ocean.
  • Another way to get the hang of this practice is to try exhaling the sound “haaaaah” with your mouth open. Now make a similar sound with your mouth closed, feeling the outflow of air through your nasal passages.
  • The hissing sound, called ‘ajapa mantra’ (the ‘unspoken mantra’), serves three purposes: it helps to slow the breath down, to focus awareness on the breath and prevent the mind from wandering, and to regulate, by monitoring and adjusting the evenness of the sound, the smooth flow of breath.

Breathing regulates the thoughts which regulates the mind and brings us the sense of calm that we seek, when stress takes over our lives.

My take from the pranayama sessions is this: When the breath wanders, the mind is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed, the mind, too, will be still. My instructor always advises me to keep breathing deeply, always through the nose. She insists that I listen to its whisper, be aware of its’s texture and temperature. And, anyone who practices these daily will vouch for the fact that deep breathing is one of the best tools for improving your health and well-being.

In fact for a start, just try performing one of these breath techniques twice daily for only three to five minutes and see how you gain long-term benefits for both the mind and the body. And, if you do, do share your experiences. 🙂


Are you also into yoga, pranayama or meditation every day? Or perhaps something similar that you practice every day, which you’d like to share here? I’d love to hear from you if you’re willing to share the key benefits that you’ve gained from practicing these.


(Linking this with #mondaymusings.)



24 thoughts

  1. I love the quote you started with. This is a wonderful mantra I have been practicing for about seven years now. And although I practice various breathing techniques (pranayama for lowering blood pressure; alternative nostril breathing… and so on) I still believe that mindfulness and attention come over the technique. Health is very important. In the modern world, I believe, it is more of an issue than it used to be in earlier years due to many reasons: we don’t move that much anymore, the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe… I am glad we are able to encourage each other and share our experience and practice to support each other on our path to healthy life. From my practice to yours, Namaste.

    1. So glad to hear from you and see that our thoughts resonate. I’m totally with you on this one…health is indeed the most precious thing to us and all we need is conscious awareness of how best to live meaningfully and mindfully. And, its the bane of our present times, isn’t it that this has become such a challenging idea because everything seems to threaten our mental and physical health, including our habits!!! Thanks for the positive vibes! I wish you more power and more focus in enhancing mindfulness over and above everything else. Such a pleasure to have you stop by the blog. See you here again. Namaste! 🙂

  2. Loved how you began the article. Feel better, Esha. It so always good to take time out to focus on health. The past month or rather month-and-a-half has not been good healthwise for me. But still, somehow I keep neglecting my health. I keep saying time and again that I should do something about it but don’t. The thing is< i don't find any time to focus on myself. Your post is a reminder for me to do something about it.

    I was wondering why I didn't see any new posts from you. Take care.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, nabanita. It is so good to hear from you always 🙂 I totally understand the dilemma you’re facing with regard to me-time and the much needed focus on health that gets the least priority. I think its definitely to do with the stage ou’re at, right now, with the little one and the job to balance all the time. But, please do take some out out every week, to do some deep breathing if possible. I cannot tell you how much more energy you will gain by investing as little as 10 mins per day. I know it seems impossible some days but perhaps you could just give it a shot and see. Have a great working day ahead, Nabanita 🙂

    1. Thanks a lot, Vasantha. Glad you mentioned about your practice here. It really does make one feel one with the Universal Life Force, don’t you think so? My day is actually incomplete without the morning yoga practice.

  3. I practice Naari shudhi pranayam almost daily for 5 minutes alongwith Kapalbhati. This I have been doing over the last 2 months. I had also practiced Ujjayi in the yoga classes I used to attend last year but due to paucity of time I had to discontinue them. Deep breathing is indeed helpful in quietening the mind and I use a lot of it at home while dealing with D’s vocal and physical adventures. In the absence of it, I would have surely stayed the maniac I used to be. I have also been doing something to improve my immunity over these past 2 months. Every morning, as soon as I get freshened up I drink 2 glasses of warm water mixed with 40 ml each of Aloe Vera juice and Amla juice with 1 tbsp honey. This has done wonders for my weak immunity system. Not a single sick day for me this winter. Try this with Arjyo if he feels comfortable with the taste.

    1. Your morning ritual sounds great. I’m pretty sure it gives you the mental and the physical boost to your energy every morning to deal with Mr D 🙂 Thanks for sharing the great tip about the Aloe Vera-Amla juice concoction. Which brand is this and where do you source it from? Would love to try it out myself too because lately I have been falling prey to the viruses and bugs that was never the case before. It sounds like the juice is helping your system a lot. Will surely try it for Arjyo as well. Thanks a ton for the suggestion. 🙂

  4. Great subject dear Esha and more so because you have written it with so much warmth 🙂
    You are absolutely right. We have forgotten how to breathe in this fast paced time.
    To effectively combat stress, we need to activate the body’s natural relaxation response. And breathing is the super stress buster that evokes the relaxation response. Once you master the correct breathing technique (focussed breathing), you connect your body and mind which helps in stopping the stress response.

    I am also into Pranayam and meditation. It has definitely changed my thoughts and actions. I do not get excited or angry anymore. I have defeated my mental illness- panic attacks and fear! Living in the moment, for the moment is my new norm of life. Once you adopt the pace of nature, it transforms you gradually, right?

    Hope sonny is back to his element now. You can teach him Pranayam and Surya-namaskar to strengthen his immune system. Warm thoughts *

    1. Thank you so much dear Sima, for not only stopping by and reading but also leaving behind your invaluable comments for the post here. I so agree with what you say. Breathing is one of the most natural and effective ways of combating stress and boosting up the body’s defence mechanism and yet, how often we seem to ignore that, to the detriment of our own health. I’m so glad you’ve found your peace through pranayam and meditation. I’m learning to live in the present, as mindfully as possible. And, yes, I agree, it is very transformative. That’s what is helping me regain my health and I wish the same for Arjyo as well. I’ve put him into a weekly yoga class too to ensure he does the practice in the right way. Fingers crossed, hoping this will help him grow out of his all-too frequent viral attacks. Warm wishes and hugs across the miles esp for you, dear friend! Your thoughts and your words mean a lot to me always. 🙂

  5. What a beautiful read. Happy to know that you have benefited greatly with Pranayam. Wishing for a speedy recovery of your son. Yoga really helps! This comes from personal experience, Esha. 🙂

    1. Thanks a lot, Arv! So glad you enjoyed the post. Son is now better and Yoga/Pranayam both seem to be working in restoring his health in a slow but gradual way. I’m only deeply grateful that yoga works so beautifully. I highly recommend yoga and pranayam (to everyone, across all ages) to stay fit by gaining a healthy mind and a healthy body. Happy to note that you had such a positive affirming experience to believe in it this time, too.

  6. I hope you are feeling better now….and hope your son feels better soon…I have never tried yoga or meditation…although my husband practices the latter every day and encourages me too…But I keep procrastinating and busy myself in other chores. I am so happy that you set all the other priorities aside and did what was the most important thing – taking care of your health.

    1. Thanks a bunch, Sunaina for wishing Arjyo a quick recovery. Both Yoga and Pranayam work beautifully to heal the body and protect it from rampant attacks by the viruses. Do give it a shot, someday, Sunaina. I can tell you, you’ll simply love it.

  7. wow these are amazing tips and methods … I haven’t done a long session focusing only on breathing… this sounds very relaxing and peaceful. Yes, as you said, that would mean pushing few things off the priority list. Keep going and hope you reap more benefits from this practice.

    1. Thanks a ton, Raj.Try doing relaxation through deep breathing, and see how energised you feel. Time is always tight but I try and work around the most essential things and that way, a few things also go down the list, never to return. Never an easy choice to make. Thanks heaps for your good wishes, dear Raj.

  8. Loved the way you weaved the article. Yes I do practice deep breathing almost daily and that is why I can tell that it’s true – you cannot worry and breathe deep at the same time. It keeps me energetic and ready to play with my toddler after my Job too till he hits the bed which is after 11 pm. Cannot thank my Mother enough to introduce this in my life. She reminds me every now and then not letting me slip.

    1. Thank you so much, Upasana. I’m so glad you take the time out to practice deep breathing on a daily basis. What a co-incidence – my mother too introduced Yoga and Pranayam to me and now I can’t imagine life without the practice. So true…worry and deep breathing can never go together.

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