4 Breathing Exercises To Reduce Stress
Correct breathing helps beat stress. So start by inhaling and exhaling equally (sama vritti) to calm the mind. Then try slow, deep breathing through alternate nostrils (nadi shodhana) or through both nostrils (sohum meditation), focusing on your breath. These can relax the mind and help you focus before any stressful event. Try a faster deep breathing (anuloma viloma) when you've mastered these.
Through my experience I have found that breathing is very personal. It is very personal because it takes a lot of attention and awareness to get the body used to breathing a certain way and experimenting with different breathing techniques.
Advantages of controlled breathing
- Curbs stress from its roots
- Lowers blood pressure
- Increases concentration
- Keeps the mind and body functioning at its best
- Promotes feelings of instant calmness and relaxation
In my everyday practice, I observe many of my students breathing through their mouth!
Your breath should be natural, especially once you bring it into your everyday practice. Controlled breathing is a great technique to ease stress in almost all situations, including one of our daily stressors, our work commute.
Traditional Indian Medicine On Breathing
Ancient texts of Ayuryoga and Ayurveda have proved that methods of breathing and meditation are effective in curing many problems, which rise in today’s stressful lifestyle. Experts encourage using the breath as a means of increasing awareness and mindfulness. According to many traditions, it is the key to attain a zen state of being. Even yogis swear by utilizing breathing exercises to live a joyful and healthy life.
From the comfort of your bed, to your office desk, or any other place where you catch your mind in a negative state, these 4 breathing techniques will instantly help you keep calm.
But breathing easy isn’t as simple as it sounds. However, a well-trained teacher can show you the methodology to breathing exercises and prescribe the right amount of technique. Make sure to be slow in your practice as getting the technique right is primary to achieving great results.
1. Sama Vritti (Equal Breathing Technique)
Sama means equal. Vritti means the state of being. Right now, our bodies are accustomed to the practice of shallow breathing. Keep the goal in mind: this technique can calm the nervous system, increase focus, and reduce stress and anxiety.
This step is great for the beginner who wants to relax. A count of 10 breaths would be a great way to stop and rejuvenate your busy day.
- To start sama vritti, inhale for a count of 4.
- Then exhale for a count of 4.
- As you advance, aim for 6 to 8 counts per breath.
Remember to breathe through your nose. This adds a natural resistance to the breath and is a basis of pranayama breathing.
Sama vritti can be done anytime, any place. This is one technique that is especially effective when you catch yourself creating unlimited thoughts. In other words, if you’re having a hard time falling asleep, this breath can help slow your mind and reduce racing thoughts and help you bring your focus and concentration to the present situation.
2. Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
This breathing technique is used to balance and unite the right and left hemispheres of the brain. This is also known as a silent breathing technique.
- Starting in a comfortable seated pose, hold your right thumb over the right nostril and inhale deeply through your left nostril.
This is great for a beginner to start focusing on following his or her breath. It is allowed throughout pregnancy and can be beneficial in relaxing, cleansing, and improving blood circulation.
- At the peak of inhalation, pause to close off the left nostril with your ring finger, then exhale through the right nostril.
- Continue this pattern, inhaling through the right nostril and closing it off with the right thumb and exhaling through the left nostril.
Slowing the pace of your breath is the key to optimize the results of this silent breathing technique. Concentrate on keeping the breath quiet while focusing on feeling the coldness in your inhale and the warmth of your exhale.
Nadi shodhana works best during crunch time or anytime you find it challenging to focus or energize, such as prior to meetings in the mid-afternoon. Nadi shodhana is said to “clear the channels and meridians in our body and make people feel more relaxed if done with control. On a slower pace, this is a great sleep inducer.” It’s almost like a cup of warm milk before you fall asleep!
3. Sohum Meditation (Abdominal Breathing / Ocean Wave)
Anyone can enjoy this ocean wave of breathing. Also great for a beginner, just imagine an ocean wave splashing on the shore and retracting.
- With one hand on the chest and the other on the belly, take a deep breath in through the nose, ensuring the diaphragm (not the chest) inflates with enough air to create a stretch in the lungs.
- Pause 2–3 seconds after inhalation and exhalation.
It is great for pregnant goddesses to nurture their growing little one, as this ensures improving oxygen absorption and detoxes your whole body.
Do a round of 8–10 deep, slow breaths per minute for a minimum of 5 minutes each day to get lower blood pressure and a tension-free lifestyle. This breathing technique is also very helpful in increasing lung capacity and improving digestion. It also aids in regulating the natural rhythm of your heart.
This breathing technique works great before tests, interviews, or any stressful event. Though it can seem slightly hard in the beginning to control the breath, be patient and the body and mind will help train the breath control.
4. Anuloma Viloma (Intermediate Level Of Nadi Shodhana)
This breathing technique is very similar to alternate nostril breathing. Here, the air is forced in, instead of in a controlled slow-paced breathing. Let your breathing be heard loud.
According to ancient texts, this heals all forms of internal disease without medication. Many great benefits can be seen when anuloma viloma is practiced regularly.
- To begin, we start in a comfortable seated posture.
- Before you start, use a tissue to blow your nose to remove excess mucus.
- Begin with closing your right nostril using your right thumb and lifting your right elbow in line with the right shoulder, parallel to the floor.
- Now, as you force inhale through your left nostril, a gush of a noisy breath is pushed in immediately.
- Close your left nostril with your ring finger to exhale out of your right nostril, then followed by an inhale.
This is a fast-paced nadi shodhana. In this technique, your breath is pushed to clean and clear your lungs as this increases your heart rate. I call anuloma viloma cardio workout for ancient yogis.
This breathing exercise is great to begin your day! But beware, as this is an intermediate level of breathing, this technique can make you feel lightheaded.
Anuloma viloma should be done on an empty stomach, preferably early in the morning or mid-afternoon before you reach for that cup of caffeine! It’s like playing upbeat music to dance to and having an expresso shot, all together. It is highly energizing!