Every day we deal with stress, one way or another, whether it’s getting the kids ready for school on time in the morning, finding ourselves caught in traffic jams, or dealing with anything work-related. Over the past few years, I have experimented with four different types of breathing that I find very helpful in calming me down, making me feel more relaxed, and preparing me for the next task of the day.
Just taking a five-minute break or less to do a breathing exercise every day can make a big difference over time. The following breathing exercises have been referenced by numerous professionals.
- Box breathing: Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, and count for 4 seconds before breathing in again. You can increase the number of seconds as you become more skilled, but always practice in moderation. And just a few minutes (up to 5 minutes) at a time is plenty.
- Alternate nostril breathing: Using the thumb and ring finger of your right hand and being in a comfortable sitting position, put your thumb on your right nostril to close it and exhale through the left nostril all the way. Then breathe in through the left nostril, close the left nostril with your ring finger and exhale through the right nostril. Breathe in through the right nostril, close the right nostril with the thumb again and breathe out through the left nostril. Repeat this breathing pattern for just a few minutes at a time. I was first introduced to this technique by meditation teacher Emily Fletcher and it is another great way to re-energize yourself.
- Breathing exercise paired with visualization: I read about this breathing exercise in a book titled The Fourfold Path to Healing, by Dr. Thomas Cowan, Sally Fallon, et al., and find the visualization very relaxing. Picture yourself by the seashore and as a wave comes crashing at your feet, breathe out. Pause for a few seconds, then as a new wave forms in the distance, take a deep breath in. Hold your breath for a few seconds, then breathe out as the new wave reaches your feet again. Repeat this breathing exercise a few times.
- Vagal nerve stimulating breathing exercise: This exercise (which I love to do every day) is well described by neurologist Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein in a Bulletproof podcast. Begin by sitting comfortably without crossing your arms or legs. Place the tip of your tongue right between your palate and the upper teeth. Breathe in for 4 seconds through the nose. Hold the breath for 7 seconds. Breathe out through the mouth for 8 seconds, making a “whoosh” sound as you still have your tongue placed between your palate and upper teeth. Repeat 4 times only, twice a day.
When doing these breathing exercises, always make sure you keep a straight spine with your chin slightly tucked in to lengthen the back of your neck. This position gives the room for your lungs to fully expand when you breathe in, which isn’t possible if we are hunched over. Also make sure your breathing begins in the belly; this will help circumvent the typical shallow chest-breathing pattern we experience when we get stressed out. And that’s it! Four easy breathing exercises that can make a world of difference!
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