Proper breathing is essential for good health. Most people don’t realize that improper breathing can cause a lot of problems ranging from general fatigue and anxiety to heart disease and cancer. This is because cell health is dependent on sufficient oxygen supply. Shallow breathing has become a hallmark of our lifestyle. We’re actually too busy to breathe. This hightens the body’s stress response and leads to anxiety. How can yoga help? There are several ways that the practice of yoga can help alleviate anxiety.

The yoga postures (known as asanas), help to stretch and relax the muscles and skeletal system. The physical release through these soothing movements can help create a sense of calmness and well-being. Physical exercise of any kind will help people with high levels of anxiety, and yoga postures have the added bonus of specifically generating deep muscle relaxation while toning at the same time.

Equally important in yoga practice is the use of breathing techniques to create balance. Known as pranayama, this focus on breathing has deep philosophical roots. Prana is the word for the vital energy of the universe. Ayana generally means stretch. Pranayama is the practice of using deep breathing to create a balance of prana in the body. When there is not enough prana in the body, a person becomes restless and feels constricted. Anxiety is a bi-product of prana imbalance, and deep yoga breathing is designed to bring more prana into the body. It’s easy, and it can help create a new habit of deeper, healthier breathing in general. Here’s how.

Breathe very deeply, using your entire lung capacity. Make sure you’re breathing through the nose. As you pull the breath in, push down on the diaphram. The abdomin, ribs, and shoulders should expand as the lungs fill with air. Use the inhalation to push out in all these areas slowly. Once you’ve reached full lung capacity, slowly exhale. Repeat this process several times at a slow, steady pace. You can do this anywhere, anytime. Just make sure to focus on the process of your breathing. This exercise makes a great little break while sitting in the office, during a boring lecture, or watching t.v. Try it next time you start feeling anxious or stressed-out and notice the difference.

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