Breath work is a powerful way to release stress and calm the nervous system. The quality of our breath determines the quality of our thoughts. When we feel stressed, we can check in with the breath and notice if it’s nature is shallow, fast, and where in the body it is concentrated. Deepening the breath, slowing it down and directing it to the belly are some easy ways to help calm the mind and body almost instantly. Fostering a smooth, long and deep pattern of breath helps us communicate to our bodies and minds that it is safe to be in the present moment. In addition to directing mindfulness to our breathing, there are a number of breath techniques that help calm stress and anxiety. Try some of these exercises next time you are feeling overwhelmed.
Alternate nostril breath (Nadi Shodhana)
Alternate nostril breath is a form of pranayama that helps balance the left and right hemisphere of the brain and is deeply calming for the body and mind. It involves alternarnating the inhales and exhales through opposite nostrils to stimulate both sides of the brain and achieve a deep state of peace. It is highly meditative and very simple to do.
On your right hand, tuck in your pointer and middle fingers into the base of the thumb. Plug your right nostril with your thumb and inhale through the left nostril. At the top of the inhale, plug your left nostril with your ring and pinky finger, and exhale out of the right. Inhale through the right, plug the right nostril at the top and exhale through the left. Inhale through the left, plug the nostril at the top of the inhale and repeat. Continue this pattern for at least 21 rounds.
Box breathing is a simple and very effective breath to relieve anxiety almost immediately. It is incredibly easy and can be done anywhere at any time. Box breathing consists of an equal length inhale and exhale as well as a breath retention at both the top and bottom of the breaths.
To practice box breathing, inhale for 5 counts, hold the breath for 5 counts, exhale for 5 counts, and hold at the bottom for 5 counts before beginning again. If the count of 5 is too short or long for you, find a count that feels best for you and your body and stick with that. Try to continue this pattern for at least a few minutes, ideally five minutes or more, to find relief and soothe the mind.
The 10-20-30 breath pattern is a bit more fast paced and stimulating, however it does a great job at clearing stagnant energy and promoting a deep feeling of peace and clarity. You can do this breathing exercise laying down or standing up, but I recommend being somewhere comfortable and safe, like your bed or the couch, not driving or in the bath.
To do this breathing exercise, take 10 semi-fast paced breaths in and out of the mouth and when the 10 are completed, hold your breath at the bottom of an exhale for 10 counts. Then, continue the breath pattern in and out of the mouth 20 times, and retain the breath at the bottom of the last exhale for 20 counts. Lastly, complete 30 breaths at the same pace and hold the breath for 30 counts at the bottom of your last exhale. Find a pace that feels good for you and stick to that. It doesn’t need to be incredibly fast and focus on full deep breaths. Don’t force the breath retention either, if you feel the need to breathe, do so.
Practice these breathing techniques when you feel stressed or overwhelmed or for a general boost in your mood and energy. They are best when practiced regularly and done with full awareness and intention.