Even when we do our best to stay calm and go with the flow of life, stress often finds a way to creep in. While it’s impossible for most of us to completely prevent it, we can experience much more balance when we have a way to neutralize stress so that it doesn’t dominate our thoughts or behavior in a negative way.
The way to do that is always right under your nose (literally!)
Breathing exercises are a quick, simple, and effective way to not only reduce stress, but also to enhance overall physical and emotional health by supporting detox, reducing tension, improving posture, aiding digestion, and much more.
Yogi’s have intuitively known the benefits of breathing for many years, but it’s nice to seeresearch catching up too.
Regular practice will help soothe your mind and body throughout the day, and using it as an immediate response to stress will help quell the intensity of the moment.
Give one of these breathing exercises a try and see what it does for you!
1. Abdominal breathing. Place one hand on your heart and the other over your diaphragm. Take a long, deep breath in through your nose, feeling your diaphragm open up as you breathe in as much as feels comfortable. Then slowly exhale through pursed lips, feeling your abdominal muscles tighten as you exhale all the way. Repeat for 5-10 minutes.
2. Ujjayi breathing. This breath is also referred to as “ocean breath” because the method emits a sound evocative of gentle ocean waves on the shore. Begin by taking some regular deep breaths, then upon exhaling constrict your throat muscles to narrow the passage of air enough to emit a sound. Do the same with your next inhale and breath into your belly, so that the continuous breath in and out feels constricted enough at the throat to make a “hahhhhh” sound, but not so much that you are scratching your throat or not breathing freely. Repeat for 5-10 minutes.
3. Stimulating breath. This technique is also called “bellows breath” and consists of very quick in and out breathing to energize and enliven the mind and body. Inhale and exhale quickly through the nose, keeping the mouth closed, and you should naturally begin to feel your diaphragm pulsing as it constricts on the outbreath and relaxes on the inbreath in a rapid rhythm. Practice this breath in cycles (for example 7 quick in/out breaths, then one round of slow deep breathing, followed by another cycle of 7 quick in/out breaths). Repeat for 5-10 minutes, no longer than 15 minutes your first few times).
4. 4-7-8 breath. This exercise hails from Integrative Nutrition visiting teacher Dr. Andrew Weil and is used for relaxation. Breathe in for 4 counts, hold that breath for 7 counts, and then breathe out for 8 counts. Notice that the exhalation lasts longer than the inhalation. It might take a little practice but gradually you’ll feel the rhythm and will breathe in more deeply in a shorter amount of time while stretching out that exhale in a more lingering way. Repeat for 5-10 minutes.
5. Affirmation breathing. This exercise is very simple but brings in the added component of engaging the mind through affirmations in order to clear thoughts and focus on something positive you want to invite in the moment. Choose one or two words that you would like to repeat for the few minutes of the breathing exercise. For example, let’s say your words are “love” and “freedom.” Simply take long deep breaths, thinking the word “love” as you breathe in, and the word “freedom” as you breathe out. You can also close your eyes and place both hands over your heart to feel more present. Repeat for 5-10 minutes.
At Integrative Nutrition, we focus on a wide variety of holistic health elements beyond food, and value the role that self-care plays in creating health and happiness. This is why it's so important to find holistic ways to manage stress - like breathing exercises!