Book: The Knack How to breathe, by Cheryl Isaacson

"So you think you're breathing, do you? Well, there's a good chance you're inhaling and exhaling. The question is, how effectively are you doing so and can better breathing practices improve your overall health and vitality? Yoga practitioners think unequivocally that it can, asserting that proper breathing brings oxygen to the blood and thus empowers the muscles, organs and the nervous system.

At its basic level, proper physical breathing is simple. Breath is taken in firmly through both nostrils - you don't need your mouth. First, you'll see the upper chest starting to move - this is the clavicular part of the breath. Immediately following, is the swelling out of the intercostal area, ie the rest of the rib cage. Then there's a slight ballooning of the tummy and around the diaphragm - the abdominal breath. Exhaling takes place in reverse order. The easiest way is to stand in front of a mirror and watch the process at work. Remember to keep your face and shoulders absolutely relaxed - the shallow, cramped breathing most of us resort to as adults largely results in a clenched upper body and a few agitated palpitations around the collar bone. Once you've managed the complete breath, see if you can slow the whole thing down, making the inhale and exhale of equal but comfortable lengths. Don't try to over-inhale deeply, it's the exhale that counts. Yoga philosophy says your length of life isn't a matter of years, but of breaths. Slow down the breathing process, ward off ageing and death and enjoy more tranquil days in the land of the living." Cheryl Isaacson has written "Yoga Step by Step" (Thorsons, pounds 7.99) and "Principles of Yoga" (Thorsons, pounds 5.99)