Breathwork is an ancient practice that has been largely lost. You can use controlled breathing to manage stress, reduce anxiety, and improve overall health and wellbeing.
In our first post in this series, we explored the science and physiology behind why and how breathing techniques work to reduce anxiety and stress. Today, we’re taking a deeper look at some specific breathing disciplines. In this post, you’ll learn how to preform several of the most popular and effective breathwork methods to control stress and improve your mental health. Let’s get started!
There are two basic types of breathing: Chest breathing and diaphragmatic breathing. Characterized by short rapid breathes, we often use chest breathing during physical exertion and in stressful situations. Chest breathing can cause unbalanced oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, leading to increased heart rate, dizziness, and tension. Diaphragmatic breathing is primarily used during relaxation and involves deep, even breaths from the abdomen.
Try this method to relieve stress and re-center yourself with diaphragmatic breathing:
1. Sit or lie in a comfortable position.
2. Place one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest over your heart.
3. Take a deep breath in through your nose, feeling your belly rise up under your bottom hand while the hand on your chest remains still.
4. Slowly exhale, allowing the belly to completely deflate.
5. Repeat 3 to 10 times, trying to isolate stomach movement each time.
Also known as “Victorious Breath,” Ujjayi is a yoga breathing technique that helps promote a feeling of calm and mental clarity by stimulating the “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system.
Try this technique:
- Keep your mouth closed and breath through your nose during the entire exercise.
- Constrict your throat to the point that each breath sounds similar to a subdued snore.
- Control each breath through your diaphragm with deep belly breathing.
- Slow the rate of breathing until you are taking 2-4 breaths a minute, keeping inhalation and exhalation times equal.
Known also as “Bellow Breathing,” Bhastrika works in an opposite manner to the Ujjayi technique by mildly stimulating the “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system in a similar manner to physical exercise. Subjectively, Bhastrika produces short-term excitation followed by emotional calmness and increased mental alertness. It has been suggested that with daily practice, this technique may increase the capacity of the sympathetic nervous system to respond to acute stress without causing exhaustion (Sameer). IMPORTANT NOTE: Avoid using this technique if you are pregnant, have uncontrolled hypertension, epilepsy, seizures, or a panic disorder.
To try the Bhastrika breathing technique, follow these steps:
- Sit tall with shoulders relaxed taking several deep diaphragmatic breaths in and out through the nose.
- Begin bellow breathing by quickly and forcefully breathing out through the nose, followed by inhaling forcefully back through the nose.
- Repeat this sequence 10 times at the overall rate of 30 breaths per minute, or one second for each inhalation and exhalation. Take a 15-30 second break, breathing normally and assessing how you feel. Complete a second and third round with 20 and 30 breaths respectively, taking the same 15-30 second break between each round.
Sometimes called “alternate nostril breathing,” the Nadi Shodhana technique may help lower perceived stress levels and improve cardiovascular function.
Follow these steps to try the Nadi Shodhana breathing exercise:
- Use your right thumb to close the right-hand nostril while you slowly inhale through the left nostril.
- Pinch your nose completely shut while you hold your breath for several beats.
- Keeping your left nostril closed with your right ring finger slowly exhale through the right nostril.
- Pause briefly, then slowly inhale repeating the technique for the opposite side.
- Repeat up to 10 times, each cycle taking up to 40 seconds.
Try this technique first thing in the morning to ease stiffness and clear congested breathing passages:
- Start by standing tall. Think about the crown of your head extending to the ceiling.
- With your knees slightly bent, slowly and in a gentle rolling motion, bend forward from the waist until your arms are dangling close to the floor.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose as you begin to roll each vertebrate up slowly, bringing your head up last.
- Hold your breath at the top for several seconds.
- Exhale slowly through pursed lips as you bend forward to the ground again.
- Repeat 3-10 times.
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RA;, Zope SA;Zope. “Sudarshan Kriya Yoga: Breathing for Health.” International Journal of Yoga, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2013, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23440614/.