Breathing Exercises for Your Heart
Everyone knows how good morning exercises are for our body and health, but we know very little about the benefits of respiratory gymnastics (or breathing exercises). These types of exercises tends to be associated mostly with yoga practice. But in fact, such gymnastics is a kind of an aerobic training which has a number of advantages. People of different ages, having various health problems and fitness levels can practice it.
The positive effects of breathing exercises have long been proven by scientists. They can be recommended even to very weak and seriously ill people as a part of rehabilitation program. So what is respiratory gymnastics, and how can our body and particularly our heart and blood vessels benefit from it?
Techniques involving long breaths, breath-holding and other breathing exercises lead to the following changes in the body:
- blood and heart cells get maximum of oxygen;
- the abdominal cavity is massaged thanks to the correct diaphragm movements;
- during deep breathing, the heart frees itself from the excessive pressure exerted by the lungs and diaphragm;
- respiratory metabolism is enhanced;
- artificial hypoxia is created for the further enhancement of inhalation. Such hypoxia causes widening of the brain and coronary vessels;
- volume of the lungs is increased;
- heart rate is regulated;
- nervous system is calmed;
- training of the cardiovascular system;
- blood filling into the heart is improved.
The work of the cardiovascular system depends greatly on the amount of oxygen in the blood and the state of the pulmonary system. It is the decrease, and then the strong increase in the amount of blood oxygen that causes the activation of the processes in the cardiovascular system. Also:
- Normal blood supply to the heart and widening of the coronary vessels can help eliminate persistent attacks of angina.
- Swelling of the lower extremities and face associated with heart failure decreases due to improved heart performance and increased cardiac output.
- Breathing exercises help treat tachycardia and arrhythmia in cardiac patients.
- In the case of hypertension, hypoxia occurring during long exhalation dilates the blood vessels, and thus, reduces the pressure exerted on the vascular wall. This effect normalizes the levels and prevents the recurrent rise of blood pressure.
All the processes occur naturally and are controlled by the consciousness. When breathing properly, you can relieve your chronic fatigue and improve your work efficiency.
Contraindications and Precautions
Contraindications to breathing exercises include:
- brain injuries;
- very high and uncontrolled blood pressure;
- certain spine injuries;
- apparent degenerative disc disease;
- acute thrombophlebitis;
- post-infarction state;
- mental illnesses;
- some serious somatic pathologies.
In all the cases listed, only a doctor should administer specific sets of breathing exercises.
When practicing breathing exercises, track your pulse. If after finishing the exercise, your pulse becomes more rapid, it means this particular exercise is not for you, stop doing it immediately. It’s considered normal that the pulse after a breathing exercise becomes deep and strong, but not rise too much. Check your blood pressure after the session of exercises – it may rise but not to a dangerous level. You should increase the intensity of the exercises gradually so that your body will have enough time for adaptation.
There are two main types of breathing – chest (or shallow) breathing and diaphragmatic (or belly) breathing. When we use chest breathing, the air gets only into the upper parts of the lungs, so we get less oxygen. But, when we take deep breaths by contracting the diaphragm, the air coming through the nose fully fills the lungs, and the abdomen (not the chest) expands. Here are the basic steps that could help you master deep breathing:
- Lie on your back with your knees slightly bent and a pillow under your head.
- Put one hand on your abdomen so you could feel how you breathe.
- Take a slow and deep breath through your nose and let your abdomen expand fully. You should feel your stomach rise.
- Breathe out through the mouth and let your stomach fall naturally.
- Keep on breathing like that for 10 minutes and gradually increase the time to 20 minutes.
Taoists believe that it’s the heart that regulates the emotional mind of a person. That’s why it’s essential to keep the mind clean. Also, it’s very important to maintain its health as it works non-stop. The following technique can considerably help in handling these tasks. It involves not only physical exercise, but also mental concentration.
- Sit straight with your hands hanging freely along your body and the palms of your hands turned outward. Concentrate your attention on your heart.
- Slowly raise your hands along the sides of your body while taking a deep breath. Once they are raised over your head, interlace the fingers of your hands. Follow your hands with your eyes.
- Now turn your hands (fingers still interlaced) until your palms are facing the ceiling. Stretch up, up and up, pay particular attention to the heels of the hands.
- Then lean slightly to the right so that to stretch the left side of your body where the heart is located.
- Open your eyes wide, open your mouth and round your lips, slowly exhale the “H-a-w-w-w-w-w” sound sub-vocally.
- Imagine that your heart is coated with enveloping tissues forming a kind of a sack. And together with this ‘H-a-w-w-w-w-w” sound every pore of this sack emits excess heat and all the negative emotions accumulated there. Imagine that your heart is surrounded by a red glow.
- Complete the exhalation, unlock your fingers and slowly lower your hands to the starting position.
- Stay in that position for a while and imagine that your heart gets filled with pure and light energy.
- Repeat the exercise 3-6 times.
Qigong Breathing Exercise
This should be performed while walking - walk slowly and adapt your pace to your breathing rhythm.
- While making the first two steps, breathe in twice slowly and naturally.
- When you make the third step, breathe out.
- The fourth step should be accompanied by breath-holding.
- Repeat the cycle.
When doing this exercise your hands should move naturally in time with your walking pace, but on the fourth step the tips of your middle fingers should touch the center of your palms and on the next step they should be relaxed again. This is the basic scheme of the exercise. It’s recommended to do it for 15-30 minutes.
- Device-guided breathing exercises reduce blood pressure: ambulatory and home measurements. Talma Rosenthal, Ariela Alter, Edna Peleg and Benjamin Gavish.
- Effect of diaphragmatic breathing on heart rate variability in ischemic heart disease with diabetes. Kulur AB, Haleagrahara N, Adhikary P, Jeganathan PS. Arq Bras Cardiol. 2009 Jun;92(6)
- Take a deep breath.
- Meditation – Cosmic Healing Sounds.