When you’re feeling stressed, emotional, or confused, try a few of these breathing exercises.
Take your time. There is no rush. You are learning to breathe in new and different ways. Play around with them and get comfortable with a few. The ones listed with their ancient Sanskrit name have been especially helpful since ancient times. All of them begin by sitting in an easy criss-cross position with your sit bones on the earth and your spine tall, and lifted up toward the sky.
Place your hand on your belly. Inhale and notice how your diaphragm moves down and your belly presses into your hands. As you exhale, release the air and pull your belly button towards your spine. This exercise can help you be more sensitive to the touch of your own hand and feel more grounded.
This exercise can be very helpful for anxiety. The four-count rhythm of the breath allows you to anticipate what’s coming next. Begin by inhaling to the count of four, then hold your breath for the count of four. Exhale to the count of four and pause after the exhale to the count of four. Imagine a square. Inhale and exhale from corner to corner. Repeat until you feel calm.
Imagine you have risen above your body and are now looking down from a new point of view. Your work is to notice your breathing as if you were tuning in to your favorite TV channel. Slowly inhale and exhale for 10 breaths. What do you sense about your breath? Is it warm? Does it have texture? Where do you feel it inside and outside of your body? Notice the limited amount of work you are doing. Your body is breathing for you. Witness your thoughts come and go. Continue with 10 more breaths.
This breath focuses on the air moving in and out through the nose, creating an equal balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Once in through the nostrils, the breath moves across the back of the throat, creating a sound similar to the ocean or Darth Vader’s breathing. You can breathe into your hand like you are fogging up a mirror, and this will create a similar action. The sounds are mesmerizing and rhythmic, and are meant to focus you, not become a distraction. This breath pattern is a perfect partner to your movement practice, building efficiency, stamina, and grace. With the consistent sound of our breath, we can become mesmerized and tuned into our own breathing. Noticing the sound and rhythm of our breath allows us to move in rhythm with other things in our lives.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
This breathing exercise includes your dominant hand and fingers, specifically the thumb and ring finger. Bring your hand up in front of your face, keeping it relaxed. Take a deep breath and press down the left nostril with your ring finger, and exhale out the right nostril. Inhale through the right nostril and then use the thumb, to press the right nostril and exhale out the left side. Inhale through the left nostril, press down on the left nostril and exhale through the right nostril. Continue for 6-8 rounds. This improves the mind’s ability to focus, connecting the right and left sides of the brain. It also helps to regulate the nervous system and instantly lowers blood pressure.
This one is also called Breath of Fire, or Kapala, meaning “skull,” and Bhati, “shining.” Focus your attention on quick exhale breaths, allowing yourself to inhale naturally. Do three rounds with 21 exhales in each round. This increases oxygen and blood supply to all parts of the body, rejuvenating your energy and brainpower for athletics or meeting up with a friend. It strengthens the lungs and their capacity for breath, stimulates the brain, and regulates the nervous system.
Place your palms down on your lap. Anchor your lower body. The breath moves in and out of the body rapidly with the pumping action of the belly in and out. Like stoking a fire with air, the breath is stoked with oxygen, quick in and quick out. Equal breathing with quick inhales and equally quick exhales. The breath stays low in the belly so that the belly muscles help pump the breath in and out of the body. This generates a lot of heat in the body. Remember the “Awareness” part of the 4 As? This helps us let go of and shift unhelpful thoughts and patterns when we become aware of them. It improves blood circulation, brings balance to our nervous system, and strengthens our immunity.
Against the Flow
(Viloma, 3 part breath)
The three parts of the body we’re concentrating on in this exercise are the belly, rib cage, and upper chest. Split the breath into these three parts, focusing on the inhale first. Inhale the breath in thirds, through each of the three parts, starting with the belly and pausing at the top. Then exhale it all out to a count of six. Three rounds here. Then reverse it and inhale to a count of six, exhaling in thirds, again starting with the belly, for a total of six rounds of breath. This strengthens our lungs and our capacity for breathing, settling the nervous system and reducing thoughts and sensations of anxiety.
(Bhramari, the goddess of black bees)
Imagine becoming the goddess of black bees, Bhramari, who just blocked the swords of many demons in a battle. As you inhale, place your index and middle fingers in your ears, quieting down other sounds. As you exhale, hum the whole exhale and listen to the sound. With three rounds you can reset your nervous system and change your mood. Since our bodies are made up of mostly water, it’s possible to feel the vibration moving through you like ripples on the surface of a pond.
Sleepy Time Breath
I would love for you to enjoy this breathing practice lying down. This is a perfect breath exercise for getting really quiet, taking a power rest, or settling yourself before you sleep. Inhale for the count of 4, pause for the count of 7, and slowly exhale to the count of 8. I bet you lose track when you focus on this breath, and that is the point. It is a wonderful tool to help you potentially fall asleep. Focusing on this breath allows the body to settle, preparing it for deep rest by signaling the autonomic nervous system’s Rest and Digest mode to kick in, keeping you healthy, rested, and on track with life.