Breathing sustains life….
And there are actually many breathing practices that affect relaxation responses.
Focused breathing practices do just that; these practices quiet the nervous system and allow it to become responsive to our more subtle inner energies. Yogis (those who practice yoga) call it pranayama.
The practice of 2-to-1 breathing is a simple technique that quiets the nervous system and the body’s energy fields, which influence mind and body. This breathing occurs when the duration of the exhalation is twice the length of the inhalation; hence, the name. The technique is sometimes used by those preparing to practice mediation as it stabilizes the mind.
Prior to practicing this technique, several things are needed: the breath must be nasal, meaning breathing via the nose, not the mouth; the breath should be more diaphragmatic and not short to the upper chest; and the breath must be free from irregularities, meaning that the breath must be free-flowing and not obstructed (so not to be practiced if you have a cold).
Once you have these three conditions of a clear nose with nasal diaphragmatic breathing, you are ready to begin.
The first step is to select a comfortable seated position that creates alignment between the head, neck and truck. (I practice on the floor sitting simple cross-legged with my hips higher than my knees; I sit on a small pillow or rolled towel under my hips to rotate my pelvis forward, thus making my hips slightly higher than my knees). Ideally the sitting position enables you to sit quite comfortably without muscle tension.
Next, create an even duration between inhalation and exhalation. Count the duration of each inhalation and each exhalation; most people are comfortable with a 3 or 4 count for each exhale and inhale (which would be 6 or 8 total cycle). The counting is done mentally. Now, without changing the duration of the total cycle, adjust by slowing the exhalation and gently quickening the inhalation to achieve a 2-to-1 ratio. For example, if you counted a total of 8 with inhale and exhale, your new 2-to-1 breath will be exhaling for 6 counts and inhaling for 3.
Most find the best way to extend the breath is to deepen the exhalation, by slightly contracting the abdominal muscles to gently push out the air. This deepening exhale removes more waste gases, plus the muscle contraction will increase circulation by creating a pumping action.
This ancient breathing practice was used by the yogis as a method to increase their vital energy and enhance relaxation. The practice, like all others, takes patience and attentiveness. Do not force – it is a gentle practice. Start slow and allow yourself to build up capacity. Eventually, with practice, your breath will flow evenly, smoothly and effortlessly.
Physiologically, 2-to-1 breathing decreases nervous activity in the sympathetic nervous system and increases the influence of the parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates relaxation response. With practice, this breath work can decrease heart rate, regulate the lungs, and reduce nerve activity associated with the muscles and the senses.
nervous system 101:http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/auto.html
What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset. ~ Crowfoot, Blackfoot Warrior & Orator