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December 17, 2015

Even More Breathing Exercises for Older Adults

The goal of our blog posts is to help readers live healthy, independent lives—and we’re pleased at the response to our blog post titled, Breathe Easy! Six Breath Exercises for Older Adults. In this post, we shared how breathing exercises can help to build strength and stamina, and improve sleep and mood. Exercises shared include:

  • Complete breathing
  • Humming breathing
  • Chinese breathing
  • Diaphragmatic breathing
  • Feet breathing
  • Buteyko breathing

The last one is especially helpful for people who have breathing problems such as asthma. Buteyko breathing involves getting into a comfortable position in a quiet environment, then focusing on taking in shallow breaths through the nose. This can help slow the rapid gasping breaths associated with asthma or stress.

Additional Benefits of Breathing Exercises

These include lower blood pressure and feelings of calm and relaxation. Exercises as simple as breathing in through your nose for a count of four—and then exhaling for a count of four—can calm the nervous system.

It’s especially important for older adults to practice these exercises because, as people age, the rib cage and surrounding muscles stiffen. This means it isn’t as easy to take in deep breaths, which can prevent the proper amount of oxygen from getting into your system.

Filling Three Body Regions with Oxygen: Pranayamas

Ancient yogis developed these three-part breathing exercises. The underlying philosophy of these exercises is complex and fascinating, and can be found here. Essentially, the belief is that regulating breathing (“altering the rhythm of inhalation and exhalation”) allows a person to control the “prana” or “vital force in the body.” Pranayamas is the process wherein this “conscious control is achieved through synchronized breathing.”

To practice this form of breathing, the back, neck and head should be kept in a straight line without allowing your body to become stiff. It’s important to be relaxed and you can even lie down on your back if it works for you. Ultimately, you want to be able to fill the three body regions with oxygen. The three parts are:

  • the belly (on top of or just below the navel)
  • the chest (the thorax or rib cage)
  • the clavicular region (or upper chest, near the sternum)

Begin by taking “slow, long and deep nasal breaths.” Your abdomen should fill up with air at inhalation and deflate at exhalation. Repeat this a few times, keeping your breathing smooth. When ready, also inflate your thoracic region with air, opening up your rib cage. Then, when ready, open up the upper chest area, as well, combining all of these steps into one continuous flow. You can also practice alternate nostril breathing. As you focus on closing down one nostril and breathing in and out of the other—and then switching—you won’t be able to spend as much energy on worries and concerns.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Relax.

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