Breathing Exercises to Reduce Stress

If you’ve ever practiced yoga, then you understand the importance of the breath.  You can use your breath to energize or calm yourself.  Focusing on your breath allows you to find your center and allows you to feel at ease.  Besides simply breathing more deeply, there are several yogic breathes that you can use to calm the body and mind in any situation:

Three-Part Yogic Breath

Sit in a comfortable upright position.  Lengthen the spine.  Breath in through the nose slowly by expanding the belly, then the rib cage, then the upper chest.  Hold at the top of the breath for one moment.  Exhale through your nose by relaxing the upper chest, then the rib cage, then the belly.  The order is important here.  You are filling your body with the breath in the same way that you fill a glass with water.  You fill from the bottom up and empty from the top down.  Be sure to try to fill every pocket of your lungs on the inhale and empty all the air from your lungs on the exhale.  Once you are comfortable with this breathing technique, try closing the eyes and practice for several minutes.  If you enjoy meditation, then focusing on this breath can be the focus of your meditation.  Practice for as long as you like, but at least practice until you feel the wave of calm encompass your body.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Once again, sit in a comfortable upright position with a long spine.  Take your right hand and part the fingers into “Spock hands” (your first and second finger are together while your ring finger and pinkie are together).  Place your first two fingers in between the eyebrows.  Press your middle and ring finger against your left nostril and close off the left nostril.  On your next inhale, breath in through the right nostril.  At the top of the breath, hold your breath and switch nostrils by closing off the right nostril with your thumb and releasing the ring finger and pinkie from your left nostril.  Exhale through your left nostril.  Inhale through the left nostril.  Hold at the top of the breath and switch nostrils by closing the left nostril with the ring finger and pinkie while releasing the thumb from the right nostril.  Exhale through the right nostril.  This completes one round; continue with this breath for several minutes, keeping your entire focus on the breath.  It can be useful to label each step in your mind by mentally saying, “In”, “Switch”, “Out”, “In”, “Switch”, “Out”.  You can use this breath as the focus of your meditation, or simply practice it for several minutes.  This breath is wonderful for evening out our bodies and minds because just like we have a dominant hand, we have a dominant nostril!  This breath allows each nostril to get equal breathing time.

These are two simple breathing techniques that are often practiced in yoga, but can be practiced literally everywhere!  (expect maybe underwater…)  The breath is such a powerful tool because you can always use it to calm your body and your mind.

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