Breathing Exercises for stress reduction and creating more calm
We do our best to stay calm and go with the flow of life, however stress still often finds a way to creep in. We are rushing through our lives packed full of activity, relationships, and careers at a million miles an hour and it may be impossible to completely prevent stress. However, we are capable of experiencing much more balance when we find a way to manage stress so that it doesn’t dominate our thoughts, behavior and emotions in a negative way.
I have been speaking about meditation techniques, and why it can be a simple solution to stress in previous blog posts. I invite you to shift your perspective on meditation here. Learn about mantra meditation, and why it is my favorite form of meditation here. Maybe you’ve tried meditation before, and maybe you’re not noticing the benefits yet. Sometimes stress comes on in times where it is difficult and inconvenient to try to meditate. Maybe you need a little bit MORE to calm your nerves, and I’m not talking about a cocktail. To these scenario’s, I always bring myself back to the breath. Giving your monkey mind a task, such as paying attention to the breath, can help melt away stress and anxiety. I use these techniques daily before I am even stressed as a preventative measure.
Stressed? Take a 2-minute breathing break. Not stressed? Take a preventative-breathing break anyway! It is not that life isn’t happening around you, the goal is not to stop a hurricane but to prevent being torn apart by the hurricane. Breathing exercises are a quick, simple, and effective was to not only reduce stress, but also enhance overall physical and emotional health by supporting detox, reducing tension, improving posture, aiding digestion, and much more.
Find a comfortable seat where your spine is long and erect. Root your sitting bones down into your chair or mat and elongate the sides of your waist, from hips to armpits. Lift the chest and soften your shoulders back and down. Grow taller through to the crown of your head as you relax your jaw. There is a tendency, especially during breathing exercise, to start clenching your teeth. Be aware of your body.
Lets start with Diaphragmatic breathing. Filling your belly with your breath, rather than just your chest. All breathing techniques start with belly breathing. In fact, I recommend you belly breath so often it becomes your normal breathing. Breathing into the belly rather than the chest allows your lungs to massage your diaphragm, and the parasympathetic nerve. When stimulating the parasympathetic nerve, you are stimulating the relaxation system of the body, the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system, fight or flight (stress) response. Buddha had something right when growing that belly. Chest breathing holds stress in our neck and shoulders, belly breathing lets that go and relieves muscle and physical tension. Other benefits include: allowing mental function to slow, body and mind connection, releases natural waste such as carbon dioxide, increases oxygen to all cells, strengthens the lungs, slows your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure, increases blood flow to muscles, improves concentration, and boosts confidence. Somewhere along the lines, women specially, have been told to suck our bellies in and breath into our chests. Let that go, breath into your Buddha belly and fill it like a balloon. Place your hand on your stomach, and feel the rise with the breath in, and your abdominal muscles tighten and stomach fall as you exhale all the way. I like to pretend a flower is inside my stomach and on the inhale the flowers are blooming and expanding, and on the exhale they are closing and contracting. I also imagine the shoreline, and waves crashing in, filling my stomach, and rushing out and away with the breath. Let each exhalation and inhalation be the same length—smooth, slow, and relaxed. Do not force the breath or allow it to be jerky. Let each breath flow without pause.
A deceptively simple technique used in Zen practice. Sit in a comfortable position with the spine straight and head inclined slightly forward. Gently close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Then let the breath come naturally without trying to influence it. Create an easy transition between the inhales and exhales; just as if the breath were a Ferris Wheel, as you inhale the breath rides up and as you shift you naturally fall into the exhale and ride the Ferris Wheel down. Ideally it will be quiet and slow, but depth and rhythm may vary. Begin by counting “one” to yourself as you exhale. The next time you exhale, count “two”, and so on, up to “five”. Then begin a new cycle, counting “one” on the next exhalation. Never count higher than “five”, and count only when you exhale. You will know your attention has wandered when you find yourself counting up to “9”, “14”, even up to “27”, don’t fret, simply start over, and try again. Try this for 2 minutes, up to 10 minutes.
This exercise is extremely calming for the nervous system, and gains in power with repetition and practice. You cannot do this too frequently, use it whenever anything upsetting happens, when you are aware of internal tension. Use it to help you fall asleep.
Exhale completely through your mouth, close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose for a mental count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 7. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound, to the count of 8. That is one breath, repeat this cycle for the total of 4 breaths. After much practice you can increase to 8 breaths. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.
This cleansing practice, also called “alternate nostril breathing,” involves inhaling and exhaling through one nostril at a time. In addition to opening the flow of energy along the nadis, this practice calms, purifies, and strengthens the nervous system and deepens self-awareness—excellent preparation for meditation. The purpose of this breath is to balance the hemispheres of the brain and settle the mind.
With your hand, fold your second and third finger down, using your thumb and fourth finger alternate between blocking each nostril. Breath in through one nostril, out through the other. Close the right nostril, exhale left, inhale left, close left nostril gently and exhale right, inhale right, close, exhale left. Continue this breathing for 2 minutes.
I hope you find these breathing techniques when you need less stress and more calm. Use them when you are tense, and before you even get so far. Use them often and share them with your friends.