Breathing exercises allow you to access your autonomic nervous system (the component of your nervous system that controls involuntary processes such as breathing and heart rate,) and create shifts in your energy levels and perspectives. If you don’t have time for physical exercise, breathing exercises can offer you many of the benefits, from helping to reduce stress and release tension, to improving focus and clarity, boosting energy levels and relieving chronic pain. And the best thing about breathing techniques is they can be done wherever you are. Getting your breath under control is an immediate way of getting a handle on a situation, especially if you’re panicking about something or feeling angry. Take some deep, long breaths to settle yourself down and then give some of the following techniques a try.
This breath can either energize or relax you, depending on what you need.
To practice: Sit up straight and release any tension in your shoulders. Breathe in and out through your nose, and allow the air to flow into your lower chest and abdomen.
For an energizing breath: Inhale for a count of 6, hold for 1, exhale for a count of 4. Repeat for 1 to 3 minutes.
For a relaxing breath: Inhale for a count of 4, hold for 1, exhale for a count of 6. Repeat for 1 to 3 minutes.
Alternate nostril breathing
This technique reduces anxiety and improves clarity. It’s also very difficult to think about anything else than just practicing the technique, so you’ll get a natural “clean slate” approach to your next task at hand when you’re done! To practice this breathing exercise, sit up straight and close off one nostril with your finger; breathe out through the other nostril and in again; then switch nostrils (some people find using a thumb on one nostril and a finger on the other makes it easy to flip from one side to the other seamlessly.) Breathe slowly for the same count in each direction – pick a rate that works for you. Repeat for 2 to 4 minutes, or until you feel calmer and clear-headed. It may feel strange at first, but when you get used to it, you’ll find it’s an excellent way to refresh your mind.
Known as Kapalabhati in yoga, this breathing technique increases the amount of oxygen in the blood – energizing the whole body and refreshing the brain. To practice: sit up straight, take a deep breath into your belly, then forcefully exhale while drawing your navel in towards your spine – creating a pumping action. Then allow your lungs to fill back up, and repeat the forced exhale. Think of it as inhaling passively but exhaling actively, almost the opposite of a “normal” breath cycle. Continue for 10 to 20 breaths, and repeat 1 to 3 times. Give it a try and you’ll be amazed how awake you feel afterward!