Most of us don’t pay much attention to the way we breathe. It wasn’t until I started taking yoga many years ago that I discovered that I was a shallow breather (breathing through the chest rather than lower lungs), breathed through my mouth rather than through my nose, and was prone to breathing quickly when feeling stressed and anxious.
We all have our triggers for stress and anxiety. A few of mine are driving in traffic, feeling disapproved of by some authoritative figure, and sudden loud noises. When these events happen, my body will often go into a “fight or flight” mode: rapid breathing which causes a surge of stress hormones, such as cortisol, that increase blood pressure and pulse rate. I get into a state of high alert and ready to fight for my life. The problem is that I am not out fighting the lions in the jungle, but rather experiencing the frequent stresses of modern life (like being in a Starbucks drive through line that is taking forever)!
This is common and probably happens to most of us. The key is to become more aware of our breathing when we are feeling stress and have some tools handy to prevent our bodies from going into that highly stressed state. What we want to do is to elicit the relaxation response to reduce stress. A focus on our breathing is an excellent way to do this.
Here are 5 of my favorite breathing exercises that you can do in ten minutes or less to relax.
To do this exercise either sit upright with your legs crossed or lie on your back relaxed with your arms at your sides or on your stomach. Breathe in deeply, letting the air fill your lungs and inflate your abdomen. As you inhale say or think “so.” Do this to the count of five. Then slowly exhale the air all the way out and say or think “hum.” Repeat ten times.
You are going to count using a number cycle 5-3-4. When you are ready, close your eyes and inhale to the count of five. Then hold your breath for 3 seconds, and let it out to the count of four. Repeat.
3. Breathe out longer than you breathe in.
This is a simple exercise and can improve your mood quickly. Pick a count. Any count will work so long as your exhale is longer than your inhale. Try breathing in for a count of five and breathing out for a count of ten. Repeat. Experiment and do what works for you.
Our nose is linked directly to our nervous system. A few benefits of this exercise are: calming an agitated mind, improving brain function, and improving brain function. To practice: hold the right thumb over the right nostril and inhale deeply through the left nostril.
At the peak of inhalation, close off the left nostril with the ring finger, then exhale through the right nostril. Continue the pattern, inhaling through the right nostril, closing it off with the right thumb and exhaling through the left nostril.
5. Ocean’s Breath:
Take an inhalation that is slightly deeper than normal. With your mouth closed, exhale through your nose while constricting your throat muscles. If you are doing this correctly, you should sound like waves on the ocean.
No matter what life throws your way, you will have the skills to stay calm if you master your breath. Our breath is our life force. The quality of our breathing directly affects the quality of our lives. Breathe in… breathe out… Tell yourself, “I got this this.” Yes, you do.
Debra struggled with anxiety and insomnia for many years. About five years ago, she started a blog, The Warm Milk Journal, as a way to reach out to others who may be having the same struggles. The Warm Milk Journal has become a popular resource for people in need of a good night sleep and recently won Success Magazine's BlogStar award. Debra holds degrees in communications, law, and education. When she is not blogging she is a social media specialist for a large automotive group company in the Jacksonville, Florida area. When not working, you may find Debra walking on the beach or sweating it out at a nearby Bikram studio.
Main Photo Credit: Zai Aragon/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: monticello/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: f9photos/shutterstock.com