Have you ever noticed how easily you breathe when you are completely relaxed? On a day-to-day basis, you can notice this as soon as you get up and just before you fall asleep. The breaths are usually deeper and rhythmic, and your body feels light.
The race against time in today’s world makes each one of us anxious and stressed at some point in life. Practicing effective and controlled breathing techniques does not only relieve stress but also lowers the symptoms of stress and anxiety. They include increased heart rate, shallow and fast breathing, and high blood pressure. Controlled breathing syncs your mind and body and promotes mindfulness.
Practice the following breathing techniques to relax instantly. They are easy to learn, can be practiced anytime, anywhere, and do not require anything but your lungs and less than 20 minutes of your time.
1. Equal Breathing
Also known as Sama Vritti, this breathing exercise stimulates the autonomic and parasympathetic nervous systems, reducing the stress hormones. It also increases your focusing ability. It can be practiced anytime and anywhere, but it works best if done before going to the bed, as it ensures sound sleep in insomniac people (insomnia caused due to stress)
- Sit in a comfortable position (preferably cross legged) and close your eyes.
- Breathe normally for 5 counts and notice your breath carefully.
- Now, count to 4 as you slowly inhale and feel the lungs filled with air. Exhale for a count of 4 and feel the lungs emptied.
- Continue this breathing pattern for 5 minutes. Make sure you inhale and exhale for the same set of counts.
2. Progressive Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is a two-step process in which you tense and relax a group of muscles, one group at a time. With constant practice, you will eventually know the exact difference between the way your muscles feel before and after relaxation. This exercise lets your whole body de-stress.
- Lie down and relax in a comfortable clothing.
- Inhale and exhale deeply for 5 rounds, focusing on your breath.
- Shift your focus to your right foot and tense the muscles and squeeze as tightly as you can for a count of 10.
- Slowly relax the tensed muscle and breath in and out for 2 counts (inhale + exhale = 1 count).
- Shift your focus to your left leg and repeat the process.
- Eventually, work your way up and relax your knees, thighs, glutes, chest, arms, hands, neck, jaw, and eyes.
- For instant stress relief, you can deep inhale before tensing each muscle, hold the breath when the muscles are tensed, and exhale when you relax the muscles.
3. Abdominal Breathing
This easy-to-do and relaxing breathing technique lets you de-stress quickly by making you monitor your breathing thoroughly. It is the basic technique which should be mastered before trying any other breathing exercises. While it de-stresses everyone, pregnant women benefit from this exercise greatly as it keeps their mood swings under control.
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
- Place one of your hands on the chest and the other on the belly.
- Breathe in deeply through your nose and feel the hand on your belly rise due to the air filling up your lungs.
- Breathe out through pursed mouth and feel the hand on your belly go in.
- In both the cases, do not move your hand off the chest.
- Practice this technique for 5–10 rounds and notice the difference in your stress levels.
4. Morning Breathing
This exercise acts like a cup of coffee, by energizing your senses and bracing you up for the day. The sudden rush of blood to the brain when you bend, keeps you active throughout and prevents stress from taking over you.
- While standing, bend forward from the waist with your knees slightly bent.
- Let your hands loose close to the floor.
- Roll up slowly, as you inhale deeply, lifting your head at last.
- Standing in this position, hold your breath for a count of 3.
- Bend again in similar fashion exhaling slowly.
5. Alternate Nostril Breathing
This technique is also known as “Nadi Shodhana Pranayama,” where nadi means “subtle energy channels” and shodhana means “purification.” It works by purifying the subtle energy channels which are blocked due to stress and impurities. It establishes a balance between the left and the right hemispheres of the brain, promoting calmness and complete relaxation.
- Sit in a comfortable position and for 5 counts breathe deeply.
- Now, close your right nostril using your right thumb and breathe in through your left nostril.
- At the peak of inhalation, close your left nostril using the ring finger and exhale through the right nostril.
- Repeat this by inhaling through your right nostril and exhaling through the left.
- 20 counts of this breathing exercise energize you immediately.
- Make sure you do not practice it before sleeping, as this technique makes you alert. It is best to do it before exams or an interview or any event that could make you stressful.
Studies show a significant reduction in the stress and anxiety levels in people who practice these techniques on daily basis. Having a healthy workout regime followed by breathing exercises develops a harmony between your body and mind.