You will tell someone to take a breath when they are stressed, angry or anxious, but do you follow your own advice? You should. It’s good advice!
Controlled breathing not only keeps the mind and body functioning at their best, it can also lower blood pressure, reduce cortisol, promote feelings of calm and relaxation and help us de-stress.
From the confines of a bed, a desk or any place where negativity finds its way, consider these six breathing techniques to help keep calm and carry on.
1) SAMA VRITTI or “EQUAL BREATHING”
HOW TO: Inhale for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four – all through the nose, which adds a natural resistance to the breath. Over time, you may work your way up to six counts each, then eventually up to eight.
RESULT: Calms the nervous system, increases focus and reduces stress.
WHEN: Anytime, any place – but this is one that is especially effective before bed. Similar to counting sheep, if you’re having trouble falling asleep, this breath can help take your mind off the racing thoughts, or whatever might be distracting you from sleep.
2) ABDOMINAL BREATHING TECHNIQUE
HOW TO: With one hand on the chest and another on the belly, take a deep breath in through the nose, ensuring the diaphragm (not the chest) inflates with enough air to create a stretch in the lungs. Aim for 6-10 deep, slow breaths per minute for 10 minutes.
RESULT: This will immediately slow your heart rate and reduce blood pressure. If you continue to practice every day for 6-8 weeks, this can result in a permanent reduction in heart rate and blood pressure.
WHEN: Before any stressful event. Keep in mind, those who operate in a stressed state all the time might be a little shocked how hard it is to control the breath. Be patient with yourself and start slow.
3) NADI SHODHANA OR “ALTERNATE NOSTRIL BREATHING”
HOW TO: Starting in a comfortable meditative pose, hold the right thumb over the right nostril and inhale deeply through the left nostril. At the peak of inhalation, close of the left nostril with the ring finger, then exhale through the right nostril. Continue the pattern, inhaling through the right nostril, closing it off with the right thumb and exhaling through the left nostril.
RESULT: Brings calm and balance while uniting the right and left sides of the brain.
WHEN: Crunch time! Or whenever you need some extra focus and energy. Just don’t try this one before bed as it is said to clear the channels and make people feel more awake. Try this instead of your cup of coffee!
4) KAPALBHATI OR “SKULL SHINING BREATH”
HOW TO: This one begins with a long, slow inhale, followed by a quick, powerful exhale generated from the lower belly. Once comfortable with the contraction, up the place to one inhale-exhale (all through the nose) every second, for a total of 10 breaths.
RESULT: Warm up the body, shake off stale energy and wake up the brain.
WHEN: When it’s time to wake up, warm up or start looking on the brighter side of things.
5) PROGRESSIVE RELAXATION
HOW TO: Close the eyes and focus on tensing and relaxing each muscle group for two to three second each. Start with the feet and toes, then move up to knees, thighs, rear, chest, arms, hands, neck, jaw and eyes – all while maintaining deep, slow breaths. Having trouble staying on track? Try breathing through the nose, holding for count of five while the muscles tense, then breathe out through the mouth on a release.
RESULT: Eliminate tension from head to toe.
WHEN: At home, at a desk or even on the road.
6) GUIDED VISUALIZATION
HOW TO: With a coach, therapist or helpful recording as your guide, breathe deeply while focusing on pleasant, positive images to replace any negative thoughts. I recommend the “headspace” app that you can download for free on your iphone and plug headphones in anywhere, anytime.
RESULT: Head to a happy place! Helps to achieve mindfulness and moves you away from a negative internal dialogue that is stressful.
WHEN: Any place you feel safe to close your eyes and let go.