Most of us take the fact that we can breathe for granted, and don’t notice how we breathe unless we’re in a situation where it suddenly becomes difficult. We may notice it when we have a cold and can no longer breathe through our nose, or after intense exercise when we’re trying to “catch our breath.”
This is a huge shame, as our breath, when used properly, contains incredible healing powers! Some research has even suggested that controlled breathing can lower blood pressure, promote feelings of calm, and help with relaxation and reducing stress.
Here are three simple breathing exercises to get you started!
1. Equal breathing
Called Sama Vritti by yogis, this technique can be used anytime, but is especially useful for combating feelings of stress and anxiety, and to promote relaxation before bed.
To practice equal breathing, sit or lie down in an open, comfortable position. Breathe in through the nose to a count of four, and then exhale through the nose to a count of four. Continue this way for five minutes. Try to keep your attention on how the breath feels as it enters and exits your nostrils. When you become more comfortable and experienced with this technique, try to lengthen your count to six, and eventually to eight.
2. Abdominal breathing
Sometimes called belly breathing, this technique is commonly practiced as a way to further relaxation at the end of yoga classes. It’s a great one to practice when you feel nervous before a stressful event like a speech or interview.
To practice this technique, place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly and breathe slowly and deeply through your nose. Notice how your chest expands and your belly rises on your inhalations, and falls on your exhalations. We recommend doing this lying down, as it makes it easier to feel the expansion of your diaphragm as you breathe. For the most benefits, practice for 5–10 minutes daily. Once you get the hang of it, you can pair this technique with equal breathing (number one).
3. Alternate nostril breathing
In yoga, this breath is called Nadi Shodhana, and is known as a sort of balancing cure-all, which will give you energy when you need it, and relax you when you have too much of it. However, some people find it especially energizing, so it’s best not to practice before bed!
To practice this technique, find a seated position where you can sit up straight, but also remain relaxed and comfortable. Press your right thumb on your right nostril so the channel is closed, and inhale deeply through your left nostril. At the end of your inhalation, close off your left nostril with your ring finger, and then breathe out through the right. At the end of your exhalation, inhale through the right, close it off, and exhale through the left. Continue practicing for five minutes. Once you’re comfortable with the breath, you can pair this technique with equal breathing, so your inhalations and exhalations are controlled and the same length.
Breathing exercises are a convenient, effective (and free!) way to relieve stress and balance your mind. We encourage you to practice them daily — and then let us know how you feel!
—The Alternative Daily