Breathing for Stress Reduction: Part 2

Breathing for Stress Reduction: Part 2

Advanced Breathing Techniques for a Deeper Exploration on the Benefits of Breathwork

In a previous blog post we introduced diaphragmatic breathing.  Slow, deep breathing is considered the healthiest for us since it can boost our physical and mental energy, help release waste and create a sense of calm.  Once you have mastered basic diaphragmatic breathing, you may want to experiment with other breathing techniques to see how they make you feel.  Some methods may be easier for you to practice than others or they may be better suited for specific situations.  The idea is to find a technique that works for you.  Here are 4 more to explore at your own pace.

Equal (or Counted) Breathing

This technique focuses on making inhalation and exhalation of each breath equal in length. Smooth, steady breaths are soothing for your body and mind, especially when you feel overwhelmed, or anxious.  

  1. Sit in a comfortable position on the floor or in a chair
  2. Close your eyes and focus on your natural breath as you settle into the moment.
  3. Inhale through the nose for a count of 4
  4. Exhale through the nose for a count of 4

The body will naturally pause at the top and bottom of each breath. Give each breath the space it needs and continue the cycle, 4 counts in and 4 counts out, for several minutes.

This method can also be done lying down and is particularly helpful before going to sleep at night.  Focusing on your breath gives your mind a task, which can help stop racing thoughts, and relaxes your body.

4-7-8 Breathing

Similar to Equal Breathing, the 4-7-8 technique helps reduce anxiety and promotes a sense of balance and relaxation.

  1. Sit up straight, close your eyes and relax the tip of your tongue against the back of the front teeth
  2. Inhale through your nose for a count of 4,  expanding your diaphragm 
  3. Hold the breath for a count of 7
  4. Exhale through your mouth for a count of 8. Slow the exhale by pursing your lips to control airflow. This makes a light whooshing sound. 
  5. Repeat the cycle four times

365 Method

The 365 Method, commonly referred to as cardiac coherence in medical circles,  attempts to coordinate breathing with heart rate to promote relaxation. This technique is most effective when practiced 3 or more times per day for 5 minutes. It is a great reset for body and mind, and is perfect for those transitional moments in life, like switching projects at work, going into an important meeting, or transitioning from work to family mode at the end of the day. 

  1. Sit quietly and tune in to your breath for a couple of cycles. 
  2. Inhale slowly and deeply through the nose for 5 seconds
  3. Exhale slowly through the nose for 5 seconds. 

Aim to do 6 breath cycles per minute and repeat for 5 rounds. The whole exercise takes five minutes. 

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Used in mediation and yogic exercises, Alternate Nostril Breathing is a powerful yet simple practice that clams and balances the mind and energizes the body. This breathing technique only uses one nostril at a time in an alternating pattern. 

  1. Hold your right hand up and curl your index and middle fingers toward your palm.
  2. Place your thumb next to your right nostril and your ring finger and pinky by your left nostril.
  3. Close the left nostril by pressing gently against it with your ring finger and pinky, and inhale through the right nostril. The breath should be slow, steady and full.
  4. Pause at the top of the inhale. 
  5. Gently close your right nostril with your thumb and liberate your left nostril (relax your ring finger and pinky). Exhale completely.
  6. Pause at the bottom of your exhale. 
  7. Finish the cycle by inhaling through the left nostril, closing it, and then exhaling through the right.

Each round of Alternate Nostril Breathing has 2 complete breaths. Begin with 5 rounds and add more as you feel ready. Remember to keep your breathing slow, easy and full.

Develop a breathing practice

Experiencing stress is a part of living.  It is how we manage and respond to stress that counts. In only a few minutes a day, breathing exercises like the ones above (and there are many more) can immediately calm and balance your nervous system. So take a deep breath and commit to practicing one of these methods each day.  You’ll be healthier for it.

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