By Claire Diab and Dennis Boyle
In the yogic philosophy, one of the main ways of feeling union of the mind and body is through breathing. There are many powerful breathing techniques we use in yoga. The sounding breath is a simple yet powerful technique that can be used in everyday life and will help lower your pressure. This breath is the most calming and nourishing breath of all.
High blood pressure has become an increasing large concern in today’s world, affecting one in every four Americans. High blood pressure is also referred to as hypertension. While excessive emotional stress can briefly elevate the blood pressure, it is not the clinical cause of hypertension. Simply put, hypertension is a result of pressure that builds up in the arteries. Arteries are vessels that carry blood to the heart and major organs of the body. With every beat, the heart pumps the blood, supplying oxygenated blood to the major organs and tissues of the body. When the arteries constrict, the heart must work twice as hard to reach the heart. When the heart does not receive enough oxygen, it can lead to many complications if left untreated. Hypertension is usually diagnosed after persistent elevation of the blood pressure that rises above 140/90. The average healthy person has a resting blood pressure of 120/80.
As firefighters, when you experience stressful situations, your blood pressure can go up suddenly. You can use the sounding breath during work, on the job, in the office, or at home. This breathing technique will calm and quiet your body and mind instantly.
Studies have shown that with continued practice, the sounding breath may help to lower blood pressure by as much as 10 systolic points (the top number) and 9 diastolic points (the bottom number). This breathing technique used alone or in combination with the use of medications may significantly lower blood pressure, thus affecting the arteries, brain, heart, kidneys, and many other vital organs in the body. By taking five to 10 minutes a day to do the sounding breath, you take an active approach to reduce your blood pressure, stress, and anxiety and help in your battle with hypertension.
Ujjayi Breath: The “sounding breath” or “ocean breath”
1. Sitting with your spine straight, or lying down on your back (knees bent or straight), take a few deep breaths. Relax.
2. With a slow and steady breath through the nostrils, gently contract the back of your throat (the glottis), creating a soft and audible hissing sound. The sound is like a gentle “snore” in a deep, relaxed sleep. (To learn how to create this sound, practice whispering “ahhhhh” with your mouth open on both the exhalation and the inhalation. Or, open your mouth on the exhale and gently “ahhhh” as though you were blowing fog on a mirror–that’s the “rushing,” wave-like sound you are seeking to create with a closed mouth.)
3. Lengthen the breath as much as possible and focus on the sound. Repeat for five to 10 minutes. As you advance in your practice, repeat ujjayi breathing for longer periods of time.
a) You may wish to hold the breath briefly at the top of the inhalation and/or at the end of the exhalation.
b) Use the “circular” breath by connecting the inhalation to the exhalation. Allow the breath to create one continuous flow, visualizing a circle of light moving up the back of the body and down the front and breathing around that circle.
Contraindications: Recent surgery to abdomen or chest. (NOTE: All breathing practices are best done on an empty stomach.)
Claire Diab is an internationally recognized Yoga therapist. She is the director of the Yoga Program for the Chopra Center founded by Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. David Simon. She is an adjunct professor of Asian Studies at Seton Hall University. She is the author of several books and DVDs on Yoga including “Yoga For Firefighters.”
Dennis Boyle is a retired fire director and acting chief with the West Orange (NJ) Fire Department. He was the recipient of the 1999 New Jersey Deputy Fire Chiefs “Fire Officer of the Year” award.