HEALTHY LIVING

This Breathing Exercise Is Strange, But Full Of Big Benefits

01/23/2015 06:19 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2015

Most meditation practices encourage us to find our center by connecting with our breath, but one technique recently highlighted on HuffPost Live takes that mindful strategy to an entirely new level.

The founders of the Holistic Life Foundation in Baltimore, Maryland, joined HuffPost Live host Caroline Modarressy Tehrani and HuffPost blogger and guest Sharon Salzberg today to explain how to perform the "taco breath" -- an unusual, but beneficial exercise they teach students.

"The taco breath is one of the few breaths that we teach where you inhale through your mouth, and you actually have to curl your tongue and inhale through your tongue like it's a straw," said Atman Smith. "It's really good for physically cooling down the body and mentally cooling you down. You have to sit with your back, neck and head aligned, feet flat on the ground, and inhale through your tongue like it's a straw. Then you swallow the breath while you're holding onto the breath, and then you exhale through your nose, pulling your bellybutton to your spine -- a long, slow, deep breath. It soothes any stomach aches... and it's good for arthritis."

To hear more about this unusual but effective breathing exercise, watch the full HuffPost Live clip in the video above.

  • Fall Asleep Faster: 4-7-8 Breathing
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    To prepare for a restful night, Andrew Weil, MD, director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, recommends this breathing technique, which acts like a natural tranquilizer. "Unlike sleep medications, which often lose effectiveness over time, 4-7-8 breathing is subtle at first but gains power with practice," Weil says. Try it: Place the tip of your tongue just behind your upper teeth and keep it there throughout the exercise. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a gentle whoosh sound. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose for a count of four. Now hold your breath for seven counts and follow with an eight-count whoosh exhale through the mouth. Complete three more cycles, repeating every five minutes until you drift off.
  • Ease Allergies and Asthma: Shining Skull Breathing
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    One small study found that yoga breathing exercises significantly improved lung function in patients with asthma when combined with medication. According to Larry Payne, PhD, founding director of the Yoga Therapy Rx certification program at Los Angeles' Loyola Marymount University, this ancient rapid-fire breathing method is especially cleansing to the sinuses. Try it: Begin with a deep inhale through the nose, and on the exhale, breathe out short, powerful bursts, about one per second for ten seconds. That's one set; start with three sets and build as you go. Payne warns that this can increase your heart rate, so if you have high blood pressure or another heart condition, consult your doctor first.
  • Relieve Discomfort: Pain Imagery Breathing
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    "When we experience pain, we often hold our breath, which can contribute to inflammation through the release of the stress hormone cortisol," says Pernotto Ehrman. Try it: Close your eyes and imagine your body growing relaxed. As you breathe through your belly, visualize oxygen filling any areas of tension with comfort and calm. Then picture the pain leaving with each exhalation. "The longer you exhale, the more you stimulate the vagus nerve in the brain, telling it you're in a safe environment," says Chicago psychologist Michael Merrill, PhD.
  • Quell Nausea: Grounding Breathing
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    This breathing style may ease nausea by encouraging peristalsis, the muscular contractions that move food down into the stomach. "Grounding breathing suppresses the gag reflex, and everything starts to flow in the right direction," says Pernotto Ehrman, who uses it with chemotherapy patients and pregnant women. Try it: Visualize walking barefoot down a long stone staircase. Inhale slowly through the nose for four counts while focusing on how cool the stones feel. Then exhale for eight to ten counts through pursed lips as you imagine taking a step down. Continue until the queasiness has passed.
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