While most of us try our best not to let stress get the best of us in our everyday lives, there are inevitably moments in which we feel its effects and forget the benefits of calming breathing exercises. Work piles up, unexpected conversations happen, emails overflow.
The bottom line is that there’s no way to fully get rid of stress in our lives. The key is learning to manage it. One of the most effective and easy ways to calm the body and mind is just under our noses: breathing with mindfulness and intention.
Scientific research is catching up to what yogis have known for centuries—breathing exercises can have a dramatic impact on our well-being. Deep breathing can help improve posture, restore energy and get the blood flowing. Breathing activates the vagus nerve, which is the longest nerve in the autonomic nervous system, spanning from the brain, down through neck and chest, and into the abdomen. This nerve controls the parasympathetic nervous system, thereby regulating our body’s relaxation response, our heart beat and brain waves, as well as helping to reduce inflammation and sensations of pain in the body.
Regularly bringing intention and mindfulness to the breath is a great practice to cultivate for stress-relief and overall well-being. Below are some breathing techniques with proven benefits to calm the body and mind.
Sit up straight or lie down comfortably. Place one hand on your heart and one on your abdomen. Softly close your mouth and place your tongue on your upper palate. Begin by inhaling slowly and deeply, filling up your abdomen completely. Your abdomen will expand into your hand. Once you’ve inhaled fully, slowly let out an exhale. Your abdomen will now fall. Draw out the exhale as much as possible, completely emptying the belly so your abdomen muscles are activated in the process. Continue this process for 5 to 10 minutes, or even longer if you wish.
You may have heard of this method as “oceanic breath” as the technique causes the throat to make the sound of the ebb and flow of the ocean at shore.
Begin by taking deliberate deep and steady breaths. Once you have developed a rhythm of your inhales and exhales, constrict your throat muscles as you exhale so that each breath releases a gentle hiss. As you take your next inhale, make sure that your breath fills your belly as you breathe in your nostrils, at the same time as you continue constricting your throat muscles with your lips sealed. Note that the constriction should not cause the breath to sound raspy or feel tight, but just enough to be audible. Continue for 5-10 minutes.
Sit upright in a comfortable position and softly close your mouth. In cycles of 7-10 breaths, inhale and exhale through your nose rapidly. You should feel your diaphragm pulse quickly. After one cycle, take a few slower, deeper breaths, then repeat the rapid cycles. After about 5 to 10 minutes you should feel the blood flowing and a sense of vitality in both body and mind.
You can practice this method while sitting in a comfortable position, with your eyes closed or gently gazing at one spot in front of you. For this technique, you will only be breathing through one nostril at a time.
Begin by pressing the right nostril with your right thumb. Breathe in through the left nostril only. At the top of your inhale, hold the breath for one full second. Still holding your breath, remove your right thumb from your right nostril and cover your left with your right ring finger. Then exhale slowly and gently through the right nostril.
Continue the technique by inhaling again through the open right nostril, once again holding the breath at the top. Repeat for several rounds of breath, as this technique is said to balance the right and left sides of the body, and establish an internal sense of harmony from within.Bringing mindfulness to your breath with any of these practices will help you rewire your body’s stress response, so that your mind and body can exist in a state of greater balance, even as stressors arise. Even better is that making a habit of mindful breathing can stave off chronic stress and its destructive counterparts—from high blood pressure to cardiac irregularity. As you incorporate various breathing exercises into your day, remember that commitment and patience are key to garnering all the benefits. Inhale, exhale, repeat.
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