By Dr. Leena Athparia, ND
How often do you tune into your own breathing? Have you noticed that your breathing changes depending on what you are doing and how you are feeling - happy, angry, excited? Are you breathing more through your right or left nostril? Shallow or deep?
Breathing involves more than just providing oxygen to the lungs; it provides qi or prana (life force) to your entire system and is a bridge between the body, mind and consciousness. From the moment you are born, until your last breath, breathing is an automatic activity that goes on continuously whether you are aware of it or not. The more you can bring it into your awareness, the more you can pick up on cues that your body is telling you. For example, if your nose is always stuffy after meals, it could indicate that you have sensitivities to certain foods or that digestion is sluggish. If your breathing is often shallow and rapid, this could be a reflection of tension in your body and mind.
The quality of your breathing determines your quality of life. Here are some self-care techniques that you can incorporate into your daily routine to help you breathe better. These can be adjusted based on your state of health, climate and current concerns.
Self Care Tips for Breathing
Neti, which means "nasal cleansing", is an Ayurvedic technique that dates back to ancient India and was used by yogis to improve breathing. This is a daily cleansing routine that involves gently irrigating the nose and sinuses with warm saline water to help flush out excess mucous, dust particles and waste from the sinuses. It can reduce congestion, prevent colds, reduce dryness and open up your breathing. Neti practice can be done in the morning, daily or weekly and can be customized with antimicrobial herbs, homeopathics and even probiotics to help restore balance in the sinuses. If the neti pot intimidates you, or if have never tried neti pot, your ND can show you how to do it safely and effectively.
For individuals who suffer from lung concerns such as chronic cough, sinusitis, COPD, mucous in the chest and asthma, the nebulizer is a tool to help deliver medicine directly to the lungs through inhalation. Glutathione is used in the nebulizer and is considered the best antioxidant to quench free radicals, increase immune function and decrease mucous in the respiratory tract. Glutathione is absorbed best through nebulized form or IV. Homeopathic remedies can be added to the nebulizer to relieve specific symptoms. This is a treatment that is done in clinic initially under supervision by your naturopathic doctor, and can then be done at home. It is painless, easy to administer and can be done even for children to open up the respiratory tract.
One of the most popular DIY treatments for colds and coughs is steam inhalations. To do a steam inhalation, boil water, place into a bowl and sit with a towel over your head and inhale the steam through the nostrils for 5+ minutes. Warm steam helps relax breathing muscles, opens the bronchioles, lubricates the mucous membranes and loosens phlegm. Adding additional essential oils, such as eucalyptus, camphor or pine, can enhance the therapeutic effect. A short cut version can be done in the shower by applying a few drops of diluted essential oil into the tub and inhaling the steam in the shower in the morning. Essential oils can be customized based on your concerns. Oils with antimicrobial properties, such as tea tree, are good for fighting infections, and oils, such as camphor and eucalyptus, help open up breathing. In the clinic there are a variety of specific blends that can be used for infections, sinus issues and other respiratory issues. An add-on to the steam inhalation is the Ayurvedic nasya treatment which involves applying warm oil to the nasal passage and is often preceded or followed by steam inhalation to enhance the effect. Read more about nasya here.
Exercises to help breathing are not a new concept. In the eastern traditions of yoga, Ayurveda and martial arts, specific techniques were refined over thousands of years to harmonize prana or qi and direct life energy to specific areas. This mastery over the breath is called pranayam. Alternate nostril breathing is one of these techniques which has become popularized and has been studied to reduce anxiety, promote mental clarity and much more. Increased energy, clarity, balanced breathing are some of the benefits. Pranayam can be practised by anyone, including children. If you can incorporate a minimum of 5 minutes in your daily routine to dedicate to bringing awareness to your breathing, the quality of your health will reflect the investment in your health. You can learn pranayam through many yoga or meditations instructors, or learn on your own with videos such as this one: Nadi Shuddhi
By paying more attention to your breathing and incorporating these tips, you can experience better breathing. If you have questions on your breathing, your ND can do an assessment and customize treatments and self-care techniques that you can do at home. Self care is the basis of a healthy lifestyle and the investment in wellness.
Dr. Leena Athparia is a naturopathic doctor & Ayurvedic practitioner at Naturopathic Foundations with a focus in joint health, pain and chronic disease. If you are healthy and looking into preventing disease or learning more about your constitution, Dr. Athparia can help you. Please call the clinic at 905-940-2727 to book an appointment.