Most of us know the sound of Darth Vader breathing – that raspy, restricted, mechanical wheeze you could hear before you saw him. Fewer of us are aware of the importance of proper breathing in creating higher levels of health and happiness.
A cornerstone to proper breath-work is to breathe exclusively through the nose. Nasal breathing warms and filters inhaled air, “spins” it deep into the lower lungs for better blood/oxygen exchange, and delivers nitric oxide to the body, relaxing blood vessels and reducing blood pressure.
A tri-athlete coach in the 1990s found nasal breathing while exercising increased speed and endurance in his athletes. He taught a yogic breath exercise known as ujjayi pranayama, and named it after the space villain for the sound it makes. This exercise has been recorded throughout the ages to have a calming effect on the mind and body.
It also strengthens the diaphragm and abdominal muscles, and helps move the nervous system from a “fight or flight” stress response to a “rest and digest” healing state.
To begin, inhale normally through the nose. At first, do not take a large breath. It will be easier to master this technique with shallow breaths in the beginning.
During the exhale, breathe out only through the nose. As you exhale, constrict the throat slightly, as if you were lightly snoring. To accomplish a resonant, “Darth Vader” sound, you will find it necessary to slightly contract your stomach muscles. If you need help making this throat tightening, think of the “HAAA!” sound you make trying to fog your glasses to clean them.
It is important to keep the breath gentle but deep into the abdomen. A greater emphasis should be made on a long exhalation, even to a sense of mild breathlessness, as this will increase carbon dioxide in the blood, which most of us need. Better oxygen/carbon dioxide balance in the blood has effect on all body processes, including immune function.