TAKE A BREATHER
7 Breathing Exercises to Help You Keep Your Cool
Even if you consider yourself to be pretty zen, we all have days when it all hits the fan and our emotions get the best of us. Whether work stress is overwhelming you, your family is causing chaos, or you’re going through a hard loss, sometimes all we need is to remember to breathe.
That might sound easier said than done some days. The good news is that holistic wellness practitioners like yogis, massage therapists, psychologists, and acupuncturists have developed breathing exercises just for those moments. These techniques are designed to calm the nervous system, refocus the mind, and release tension. Here’s to keeping your cool with these 7 breathing exercises.
If tension has taken over your body, this technique could be the game-changer you’re looking for. You can try Visualization Breathing in your car, at your desk, in the bathroom- anywhere you might be! We all know that you can’t see air or breath. For this exercise, you’re going to imagine in your mind that your breath is visible. You can imagine it as a blue ribbon, a trail of glitter, or a glowing ball, whatever works for you.
You’ll be taking inhales and exhales both through the nose and keeping them equal lengths of time. As you inhale, visualize your breath traveling to each part of the body. As the breath travels, envision how it rejuvenates and relaxes each muscle, organ, and limb, from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. When you exhale, imagine that the stress, tension, and negativity is released out of your body with the breath. Repeat this process three to five times for a quick mental break.
Pursed Lip Breathing
The Pursed Lip Breathing method is often used by people suffering from asthma, but can’t be useful for those of us looking to calm our racing thoughts or emotional distress as well. You may sit or stand to practice the Pursed Lip Breath. The goal for this technique is to ensure your exhale is always longer than the inhale. As you inhale, count to three in your head.
For the exhale, part your lips so there’s only enough room for a grain of rice to pass through. Think as though you were blowing out birthday candles or on a bite of hot food. This mouth position directs the breath around the tongue, teeth, and lips, slowing down the rate of exhale. In your mind as you exhale, count to six. Repeat this pattern five times or more as needed.
Alternating Nostril Breathing
Another practice you might find in yoga class, the Alternate Nostril breathing exercise certainly sounds strange, it’s true. But this technique involves powerful methods of calming the nervous system and diverting those overwhelming thoughts. If you struggle with anxiety, panic attacks, excess stress, or insomnia, give this type of breath a try.
To get started, sit cross legged or gently tuck your legs underneath you. Close your eyes and rest your pointer and middle fingers between the eyebrows. Then carefully rest your thumb and fourth finger on the outside of each nostril. With your thumb, close the right nostril. Inhale deeply through the left and count to four in your mind. Then, close the left nostril and open the right. Exhale on the right side as your mentally count to four. Then inhale through the right nostril and exhale through the left, using your fingers to close and release the respective nostrils. Repeat four to six times.
The 4-7-8 Technique
This one is a popular breathing technique taught by many mental health counselors and psychologists. The 4-7-8 exercise is suggested to be used in shocking or upsetting situations, ideally before you respond. It can also be used to calm anxiety, or help you quiet the mind and body for sleep. This exercise can be practiced while sitting or standing, but either way it’s important to keep your back straight.
To begin, first exhale any air in the lungs (we’ll need to start this process on an inhale). Inhale and count to four in your mind. Then hold the breath for a count of seven. It’s important not to strain or tense up during this portion. Finally, exhale counting to eight in your mind. Feel free to let the air out with a “whoosh” sound. If you find that these counts are a bit long for you, make sure your inhale is coming from deep in your belly. Or, you can lower the counts to 3-5-6 when starting out. Repeat the full cycle three more times, for a total of four rotations.
Lengthened Exhale Breathing
Have you ever noticed how your breath shifts when you’re really feeling stressed? We often tend to suck in a huge, long breath, and then quickly expel it before starting the inhale again. Believe it or not, this process actually increases feelings of tension and anxiety, and according to TCM, the continued imbalance of the breath lends itself to a toxin buildup. To combat this slippery slope, flip those instincts in reverse and practice Lengthened Exhale breath exercises.
Sometimes referred to as 2-1 Breathing, this technique does just that. Your exhale should be about twice as long as your inhale. As you breathe in, count to three in your mind. For the exhale, pace yourself as you mentally count to six. You should repeat this two to four times. Then, slowly begin to extend the time, changing your inhale to four counts and your exhale to eight. Repeat this process another two to four times. At this point your stress level should have dropped significantly. Aim to keep your breathing more balanced from here on out.
Brahmari Bee Breathing
If you’re a yogi, you may have tried this breathing exercise before. For those who are new to it, don’t worry, there are no bumble bees involved! The Brahmari Bee Breath technique is founded on principles of Ayurvedic medicine based out of India. It’s frequently taught through Kundalini yoga practices. It’s said that this breathing technique can help relieve mental tension and pressure, headaches, insomnia, and lower blood pressure.
To practice this technique, first find a comfortable seat. Close your eyes and begin to breathe deeply. Hold the hands horizontally in front of the face with the thumbs facing up. With your thumbs, gently close the ears by pressing on the tragus (the part closest into your head in the middle section of the ear). Your pointer finger should rest above the eyebrows, with the remaining fingers resting over the eyes. Bring your attention to the center of your forehead, then begin to breathe in deeply and exhaling with the sound of a low hum or buzz like a bee. Repeat four to five times.
Release the Heat Technique
We all have days when our emotions get the best of us. Whether you’re feeling royally ticked off, overwhelmed, or frustrated, it can sometimes be difficult to catch our breath. Maybe you feel the heat rise to your face, your palms start to sweat, and you want to be anywhere but where you’re currently standing. That buildup of emotion and internal heat needs to be released. Otherwise, it can continue to build and fester, resulting in an emotional outburst or more unpleasant physical symptoms.
To clear the air, help you catch your breath, and hopefully lighten the mood, try this breathing technique. Inhale through your nose for three to four counts. Then, open your mouth wide, stick out your tongue, and release all the air from your lungs. No need to count this part out or control it, just let it all go. Feel free to gently shake your head back and forth while you exhale as well. Repeat this exercise two to three times (and feel free to laugh at yourself!).
Do you have a breathing exercise that you swear by? Share with us in the comments below!