RPB Week Five – Breathing for Energy and Alertness

Breathing for Energy

From our knowledge of the four breathing adaptations breathing for energy should involve: Using expansion of the ribcage and possibly the shoulders, fast breathing, a relatively long exhalation,  and breathing through the mouth for at least part of the breath.

Exercise: Pulsing – Breathing for Energy

Take a rapid breath in through your nose.  Breathe out through your mouth at a moderate pace gently contracting the muscles of your whole body.  Repeat several times, breathing out faster each time feeling the energy building up in your body.

This breathing exercise will make you feel full of energy.  It is a great way to charge yourself up with energy before an athletic event, or even before giving a presentation, or any other situation in which you need to be full of energy.  The faster pace of breathing helps to bring more oxygen into your body and the rhythmic pulsing contraction of your body’s muscles ensures that you use that oxygen effectively and burn it to give you more energy.

Breathing for Alertness and Mental Focus

Breathing for alertness relies on some functions of the nasal cavity that we have not covered yet.  This is to do with our sense of smell.

Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustrator - Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustrator Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License 2006

At the top of the nasal cavity there is a patch of cells connected to the olfactory nerve.  When we breathe normally the bulk of the airflow goes past below the olfactory nerve with only a little of the air coming into contact with these cells and giving us an idea of what chemicals are in our environment through our sense of smell.  When we sniff however this is designed to send a blast of air across these cells so we can get a much clearer idea of what is in our environment around us.  Smell is a sense that many of us pay little attention to on a regular basis, but often gives us our first sense of possible danger.  Sniffing and stimulation of the olfactory nerve creates a strong signal for our brain to wake up and pay attention!

Exercise: Sniffing – Breathing for Alertness

To instantly become more alert, sniff five to ten times in short sharp bursts.

Alertness really is that simply, provided we start from a relaxed/non-stimulated state in the first place.  Many of us however are constantly in a state of partial alertness due to stress and other factors, and this may not work so well for you.  This undesirable constant stimulation and how you can remove it will be addressed later in this section under the topic of conflict between mind and body and the breathing stimulation cycle.  In the mean time, if sniffing does not work to instantly make you more alert, the next exercise probably will.

Exercise: Alternate Nostril Breathing

In a comfortable sitting position, place the index and middle finger of one hand between your eyes. Cover one nostril with your thumb and inhale.  Uncover that nostril, cover the other nostril with your ring finger and exhale.  Leave that nostril uncovered and inhale.  Cover this nostril again with your thumb and uncover the other nostril with your ring finger and exhale. 

Repeat the whole cycle ten or more times.

The brains activity naturally cycles every 90 minutes or so making one side more active than the other.  Part of this cycle involves making the tissue behind one nostril becoming more swollen with blood than the other so that the corresponding side of the brain will not be too strongly stimulated by the breathing cycle.  This alternate nostril breathing causes the brain to alternately have strong stimulus on one side and then the other.  This balances the activity of the brain between the two hemispheres and greatly increases stimulation overall.  Also placing the fingers between the eyes naturally directs the stimulation towards the pineal gland.

It is best to just do a little of this exercise at a time to begin with or you are likely to end up feeling totally wired from the stimulation, which may not be a good thing for you.  As you gain experience with this exercise you will come to know how much is appropriate for you at any given time.

You may find this exercise difficult to do if you have constantly congested sinuses.  If it is just one side of your nose that is blocked, it is probably due to the natural cycling of activity in the brain, persist with the exercise and it will likely clear.  If both sides remain blocked, it may be due to infection or allergies, or may be a result of a state of constant partial stimulation or stress, how to deal with this will be looked at next.

This week’s practice sessions

This week’s focus will be on breathing for energy and alertness while continuing to develop your breathing for relaxation.  You will alternate between practicing each of the breathing exercises for energy and alertness and the balanced breathing.  See how you feel after each energy and alertness exercise.  The suggested times are approximate, feel free to adapt as feels right for you.

  • Balanced Breathing – 5 minutes
  • Pulsing – 3 minutes
  • Balanced Breathing – 5 minutes
  • Sniffing – 2 minutes
  • Balanced Breathing – 5 minutes
  • Alternate Nostril Breathing – 5 minutes
  • Balanced Breathing – 5 minutes