Stress. We’ve all felt it. But there is something we all have that can help alleviate it, just breathe.
Although you can’t stop stressors from occurring in your life, there are breathing exercises that can manage your body’s stress response. Turns out all you need are a pair of healthy lungs!
When you feel stressed the body is flooded with the stress hormones that make you breathe faster, elevate your heart rate, cause muscle tension and increase your blood pressure. This bodily response was necessary to our ancient ancestors when they were facing lions and wild bears.
Fortunately, human society has drastically changed since this time. Most of us, I hope, don’t have to worry about being devoured by wild beasts. Our bodies, however, have not changed. The stress you feel in a traffic jam is the same response that our ancestors felt when running from a mountain lion. These life-or-death physical responses to issues that don’t require fighting or fleeing take on a toll on the body.
These simple breathing exercises can be a powerful tool to help ease stress and anxiety.
1) Deep Breathing
If you are taking in short, shallow breaths it can make you feel anxious and drain your energy. The Deep Breathing exercise will help you learn to take bigger more controlled breaths.
- Get comfortable by lying down on the ground with a pillow under your head and knees, or sitting in a chair that supports your shoulders, head, and neck.
- Place one hand on your stomach and the other hand on your chest.
- Breathe in through your nose, feeling your belly rise.
- Slowly breathe out, feel your belly lower. The hand over your stomach should be moving more than the hand over your chest.
- Repeat these deep belly breaths three more times.
2) Equal Breathing or Sama Vritti
With this breathing technique, you’ll breathe in the same amount of time that you breathe out. The longer you practice this technique the longer you’re able to breathe in and out.
- Of course, find a comfortable spot on the floor or in a chair
- Breathe in through your nose. While you do this, count to 5.
- Now breathe out through your nose, while also counting to 5.
- Repeat this at least 10 times.
As you begin to feel comfortable with counting to 5 with this breathing technique, slowly increase the amount of time that you breathe in and out. You can work your way up to breaths that last 10seconds.
3) Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This technique will help you relax both physically and mentally. Progressive muscle relaxation involves you tensing muscle groups as you breathe and releasing as breath out.
- Once again, find a comfortable spot on the floor
- Breathe in, while doing so tense the muscles of your feet.
- Breathe out, while releasing the tension in your feet.
- Breathe in, while doing so tense your calf muscles.
- Breathe out, releasing the tension in your calves.
- Keep moving up the body while practicing this technique. Tense each muscle group. Including your thighs, stomach, chest, arms, fingers, shoulders, neck, and face.
4) Alternate Nostril Breathing or Nadi Shodhana
This breathing technique is supposed to bring balance and unite the right and left side of the brain and give you focus and energy.
- Start by finding a comfortable meditative pose.
- Hold your right thumb over your right nostril and inhale deeply through the left nostril.
- Just before you exhale, close off the left nostril with your ring finger and exhale through the right nostril
- Repeat this exercise while alternating which nostril you’re breathing in and out of for each breath.
5) Skull Shining Breath or Kapalabhati
This breathing exercise helps to shake off stale energy and wake up the brain.
- Find a comfortable spot to lay or sit down.
- Begin with a long, slow inhale through your nose.
- After you inhale, follow this by a powerful abdominal exhale, also through your nose
- Slowly quicken the pace of your exhale and inhale every one to two seconds, for a total of 10 breaths.
6) Lion’s Breath or Simhasana Pranayama
If you need to blow off some steam, try this breathing technique. Lions Breath is often practiced first thing in the morning to warm you up and increase your energy. This one makes you look crazy but its totally worth it!
- Kneel down so that your booty is resting on your feet.
- Straighten your arms out and place them on your knees with your palms facing down.
- Inhale through your nose.
- As you exhale, open your mouth and stick your tongue out as far as you can, reaching towards your chin and make an “ahh” sound.
- Inhale, and return to a neutral face.
- Repeat 4-6 times.
7) Guided Visualization
This breathing technique will have you focus on your happy place. Focus on pleasant, positive images to replace negative thoughts. Psychologist Dr. Ellen Langer explains that while it’s just one means of achieving mindfulness, “Guided visualization helps puts you in the place you want to be, rather than letting your mind go to the internal dialogue that is stressful.”
You can practice guided visualization with any of the breathing techniques above, or as a standalone. Just make sure that you are comfortable and taking deep breaths.