You’ve heard the advice, “take a deep breath” during times of anxiety, uncertainty and stress. Active breathing techniques have been used over the centuries to calm the nervous sytem (activating the parasympathetic system) and reduce our heart rate. The beauty of breathing is that these subtle exercises become more effective with repetition and practice so they are better than tranquilizers (which lose efficacy over time!)
Research has shown the effectiveness of deep breathing techniques on reducing physiological and psychological stress as well as blood pressure. Also, did you know that there is a direct link between nasal breathing and cognitive functions? This study found the impact that deep breathing has on modulating cognitive processing and behavior.
So, in this blog, I’ll share some breathing tips (also called pranayama or “breath control”) to help you stay mentally fit, keep calm and carry on (which we all need nowadays).
Equal Breathing (Sama Vritti)
This easy breathing technique can be done anywhere and is great at bedtime to guide you into sleep.
- Inhale and exhale through your nose for a count of 4
- If you can go longer, try 6-8 counts per breath
Try this when faced with a stressful situation:
- Put one hand on your chest and the other on your belly and take a deep breath through your nose (as long as you can) and exhale slowly through your mouth. Try for about 10 minutes to get yourself into a calming parasympathetic state.
Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)
This alternate breathing is said to unite the right and left sides of the brain to bring balance, calm and focus, so it’s best done during the daytime.
- Hold your right thumb over your right nostril and breathe in deeply through your left nostril. Close off your left nostril with your index finger at the peak of inhalation. Repeat the same pattern of breathing in with your right and exhaling with your left nostril.
Stimulating Breath (Bellows Breath)
As the name implies, it is used to increase alertness and energy and you should feel this on your diaphragm, chest and abdomen.
With your mouth closed, inhale and exhale rapidly (3 in-and-out breaths per second) through your nose. Try this for 5-10 seconds then breathe normally. Repeat until you can do this for up to a minute. Watch this video for a tutorial:
The 4-7-8 (or Relaxing Breath) Exercise
This is like a tranquilizer for your nervous system and can be done anywhere without getting weird stares from people around you.
- Start by placing the tip of your tongue right behind your upper front teeth
- Exhale through the mouth, making the exhaling sound
- Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for 4 counts
- Hold your breath for 7 counts
- Exhale throught your mouth for 8 counts making the exhaling sound
- Repeat the cycle 3 more times for a total of 4 breaths
- Watch this tutorial to do the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique: https://www.drweil.com/videos-features/videos/breathing-exercises-4-7-8-breath/
If you do better with a visual, download this FREE Breathing App – it offers six rhythms of inhales/exhales (2:3 to 5:7) and shows a ball with a calming sound that inflates and deflates to the rhythm.