Breathing is like food and water; necessary for life. So necessary, in fact, that we do it without thinking about it. It is an involuntary action that our bodies perform whether we’re conscious of the action or not. Because we don’t think about our breathing, though, we often don’t realize how we are breathing, and this can lead to problems in times of stress or anxiety.
Breathing is how our bodies take in the oxygen we need to run our circulatory and respiratory systems. This oxygen runs throughout our bodies and purifies our different systems, removing toxins and ridding our cells of waste that is then expelled when we exhale. When we become stressed or upset, our breathing becomes shallow, and this can have a profound effect on our well-being. While irregular and shallow breathing result from stress and worry, breathing in this way also adds to the feelings of anxiety and fatigue, only making them worse. Breathing exercises are a great way to slow down, become aware of how we are breathing, and then use our breathing to change our outlook. There are breathing exercises that both energize and calm and can be done anywhere, anytime, so whether you’re having trouble staying awake at your desk or stressed-out in traffic, performing a breathing exercise may be just what you need to instantly change the way you feel.
Types of Breathing Exercises
While breathing may sound like a simple activity, there are several different techniques that can help bring you into awareness of your body and mind in a calming or energizing way. Try different ones to spice up your routine.
Three Deep Breaths: This is the most basic breathing exercise, but it can make a big difference in times of high stress and anxiety. Sitting or standing, relax your shoulders and head. You can close your eyes if you prefer. Breathe deeply and slowly in through the nose, allowing the breath to completely fill the lungs and push your abdomen out. Hold it for a moment, and then release the breath slowly through the mouth. After releasing all of the air, breathe in and out again in the same way. Taking three deep breaths in this way will heighten your awareness and calm your mind in the present moment.
Alternate Nostril Breathing: This is a technique used in the practice of yoga, and it is believed by yogis to activate both sides of the brain simultaneously and create a sense of calm and balance. Place your right thumb on your right nostril and breathe in deeply through your left nostril while counting to four. Hold the breath, release the right nostril, and place your left thumb over your left nostril. Breathe out through your right nostril while counting to 8. After expelling all of the breath, breath in through the right nostril to the count of four, then release the left nostril, place your thumb over your right nostril, and breathe out through the left nostril to the count of eight. Repeat this cycle three times.
Ujjayi Breathing: This is another yoga breathing technique, and this technique is used as the basic breathing exercise performed while yogis go through their asana, or posture, routine. Breathe in through the nose, keeping the throat partially closed so that the breath creates a low hum throughout the course of the breath. As you breathe out again through the nose, keep the throat partially closed as to create the same hum. The sound shouldn’t be forced; it should come naturally through proper form in the throat. Simultaneously breathing deeply and hearing this sound will bring profound awareness of your body in the present moment. Repeat this breathing in and out a few times, making sure to pause briefly before exhaling so as to get in touch with the physical sensation of breath.
Imaginative Breathing: This exercise combines the power of deep breathing with the calming effects of positive visualization. Lie down in a comfortable spot and release the tension from your body. Place your hands lightly on your stomach, right below the ribs. This area is known as the solar plexus. Breathe deeply and slowly here for a moment. After a few deep breaths, continue breathing as you imagine that the incoming air is energy filling your lungs and solar plexus. Then, as you breathe out, visualize this energy spreading out through the entire body. Do this for about 10 minutes to fight fatigue and cultivate an energized feeling.
Breath of Fire: Breath of Fire is a technique taken from Kundalini yoga. Take a deep breath and allow your stomach to relax outward, then exhale, pulling the stomach back in. Inhale again, and as you exhale, pull the solar plexus in forcefully with a pumping motion with a sniff. As you inhale, relax the solar plexus with another forceful sniff. Do not pause between inhalations and exhalations. Instead, continue using the pumping motion to create forceful breaths in and out. This is an energizing technique that can create focus and momentum in periods of fatigue.