Breathing exercises to stress less
Pranayama, or breath work are very useful to increase the energy flowing around your body, regulate your emotions and control your responses. You have the power to calm down your thoughts and nervous system, to bring yourself more energy and to give yourself space to change reactions.
Breathing exercises have great mental benefits providing oxygen to each side of the brain, giving clarity, balancing emotions and controlling anxiety. They help with focus, improved concentration and relaxation. Sounds good for when you are feeling overwhelmed, confused, on that emotional rollercoaster or just damn well tired, right?
Here are four different breathing techniques I would recommend that you practice whilst sitting at your desk at work, your kitchen table, in a meeting room or simply a quiet place in your house, office or indeed anywhere you won’t be disturbed for five minutes.
The next time you feel overwhelmed, stressed, short of breath or simply have your head in your hands, give one of these exercises a go and feel the benefit to see clearer and feel more relaxed. All these exercises should be performed sat on a chair with both feet on the floor.
Close your eyes and bring your awareness to your breath making it as deep and as slow as possible.
Draw your breath down to your belly button. Your abdominal muscles will be the first part of the body to move as the diaphragm pushes down.
Next feel your rib cage expand as the intercostal muscles move out, allowing the middle part of the lungs to fill.
Finally feel the collarbone lifting slightly allowing the top part of the lungs to fill.
Focus on filling the lungs from the bottom to the top.
Don’t strain the muscles.
Place your left hand just above your belly button and your right hand up onto your chest and you will be able to identify the three separate muscle groups that are moving.
Abdominal breathing is our body’s most natural way to breathe. It is the way we breathe when we are first born.
ALTERNATE NOSTRIL BREATHING
Ok, this may sound a bit strange but it has a great advantage of focussing the mind by balancing the brain.
Place the index finger and the pointer finger in the middle of the forehead, rest them here.
Using the thumb, block off the right nostril (assuming that you are right handed, otherwise reverse this process)
Inhaling through the left nostril, fill the lungs. Focus on completely filling them from the bottom to the top.
Once the lungs are full, block off the left nostril with the ring finger.
Release the thumb and exhale out of the right nostril.
Inhale through the right nostril, keeping the left closed.
Close the right nostril and breathe out the left one.
Repeat on the left side and keep going for 5-10 rounds.
Then breathe normally.
This is a great exercise to reduce stress and calm the mind.
Close your eyes.
Take a lovely deep inhale through the nose.
Purse your lips as if blowing a candle and slowly release the exhale through pursed lips.
Imagine the golden thread being blown out of your mouth as you exhale, releasing any thoughts that do not serve you to create peace.
This practice extends the breath by expanding the natural pause between inhale and exhale. The benefit of this for the mind is stillness and clarity.
Find and observe your natural breath, balance your inhale and exhale with the same counts. For example breathe in 1,2,3,4 and breathe out 1,2,3,4.
Focus your attention on the natural pauses in between your inhale and exhale. What are you feeling in those pauses today?
Start to retain the breath for a few seconds in between the inhale and exhale. Keep the breath balanced. So, inhale for 4, hold for a few seconds, exhale for 4, hold for a few seconds. The aim is to get these all balanced.
Don’t rush the breath out and pay attention to what your body is doing in those pauses of holding the breath. Don't do this exercise in pregnancy, breath retention is not advised.
Whether you are a practising yogi or have never downward dogged in your life, you would really benefit from doing one of those exercises daily. Think of them as an easy tool to reduce stress and anxiety and to help you feel calm on those busy days or when you need just a few minutes to chill out.