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Health & Balance

How to Breathe Better

Just 10 minutes a day can boost energy, melt away tension, even relieve stubborn health problems.
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FIND RELIEF FROM MEDICAL TREATMENT

At the University of California, San Francisco, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy learned four breathing exercises, which they then practiced twice a day for 10 to 15 minutes. The simple techniques: observing your natural breath; deep inhales with extended exhales; gentle inhales followed by a brief pause and forceful exhales; and alternate-nostril breathing. During therapy, these patients were less anxious, slept better, and had fewer chemo symptoms than a control group. And the more time they spent focusing on breathing, the greater their relief. "A yoga teacher can help you learn the techniques and individualize them to your condition," says oncologist Anand Dhruva, M.D.

Next: Learn about proper breath techniques and the health benefits of better breathing

THE INS AND OUTS

Breath control, or pranayama, is a key part of many forms of yoga. "Most people can figure it out on their own from instructions or from watching a video," says the Cleveland Clinic's Mladen Golubic, M.D., Ph.D. Here, a quick guide:

BELLOWS

Sit up straight. With your mouth closed, rapidly inhale and exhale. After 10 breaths, inhale once as deeply as possible, hold for two seconds or longer, then exhale slowly. Rest for five normal breaths and begin again, doing a total of three rounds.

PACED BREATHING

Inhale for six seconds, then exhale for six. If that's not comfortable, begin with shorter breaths and work up to six seconds. In the study, participants did paced breathing for 30 minutes, but again, you can start with a shorter period - five minutes - and build up to doing it longer.

ALTERNATE-NOSTRIL BREATHING

Close your eyes and sit up straight. Hold your right nostril closed with one finger of your left hand, inhaling through your left nostril. Pause briefly and close your left nostril with the thumb of your left hand, releasing your first finger to exhale through your right nostril. Inhale through the right, then switch thumb and finger again to exhale through the left. Start with 5 minutes and build up.

BREATHING AS AN Rx

In recent studies, techniques taught by knowledgeable pros have helped improve specific medical problems. Three worth considering:

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