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Even the simplest things can be hard to remember when we’re in the throes of anxiety or a stressful situation. When anxiety hits hard, it can cause us to hyperventilate and turn an already negative situation worse. It’s not fun. But if we’re able to take a moment to master the basics, like breathing, then quite often the other things will fall into place afterward. By taking control of our breathing, we can start to take control of the other things in our life that might feel unmanageable.
Our bodies have an immediate physical reaction to calm breathing exercises in which we experience a lower heart rate, decreased muscle tension, lower blood pressure and less oxygen consumption. So let’s take some deep breaths and learn to soothe ourselves with some simple exercises. Ready?
Mastering a Deeper and Better Breath
Before we even get into the actual exercises, it’s important to make sure you’re getting the right kind of breath. (Yes, there is a “right” way to breathe in this case.) When we’re anxious or stressed, we have a bad habit of taking a lot of short, small breaths into our upper lungs. Instead, focus on inhaling air all the way into your lower lungs and filling them up. Think deep, slow breaths. When done correctly, your lungs will fill up, push your diaphragm and expand your stomach outward.
Exploring Different Techniques
There are a few different methods for calm breathing exercises, so it’s good to try them all and see which one you like best.
Lie down or find a comfy spot to sit for this technique. First, place the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, behind your two front teeth. Try to keep your tongue in this position for the whole duration.
Within the cycle of one breath:
- Part your lips and exhale all breath with a whooshing sound through your mouth.
- Now close your lips and inhale through your nose as you mentally count to four.
- Next, hold your breath for seven seconds.
- Finally, exhale from your mouth for eight seconds with another big whoosh.
Repeat this four times to feel the calming effects of this exercise. Once you’ve become familiar, it’s OK to repeat up to eight times. Pro tip: This is also a great way to get yourself ready for sleep!
This is a great way to tap into the rhythm of your breathing. Feel free to practice this one in any position, but lying down on your back is a good way to become more familiar with this technique.
- Place your left hand on your belly and your right hand on your chest. Pay attention to how your hands move as you breathe in and out.
- Breathe in through your nose so that your left (belly) hand goes up when you inhale and your right (chest) hand stays still. Breathe out through your mouth. Do this eight to 10 times.
- After repeating eight to 10 times, now it’s time to add the next step to your breathing. Inhale first into your lower lungs, and then continue inhaling into your upper chest. Take deep and slow breaths. Your right hand (chest) should rise as your left hand (belly) falls.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth and notice how first your left hand and then your right hand fall.
Practice this type of breathing for three to five minutes. Be aware of the movement of your belly hand and chest hand alternating like rolling waves.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
This last one is popular among the yoga crowd and is supposed to bring the practitioner calmness and balance. So situate yourself in a comfortable meditative pose to get started.
- Hold your right thumb over your right nostril and inhale deeply through your left nostril.
- Once you’ve reached your full breath, close your left nostril with the ring finger and exhale through the right nostril.
- Now switch — inhale through the right nostril, close it with the right thumb and exhale through the left nostril.
Repeat this for a few minutes or until you feel yourself significantly more focused. Unlike the other exercises, this technique is said to energize and focus us rather than enter a deep relaxation state.
Beyond the Breathing
Keep in mind that breathing can do wonders to help clear your mind, but think of it as a sort of reset button. While practicing these techniques, make an effort to concentrate on your breathing and that’s it. Don’t let negative thoughts or the worries of the world invade these sacred moments. Then, once you’ve gotten yourself into a healthier headspace, you can work on addressing your problems from a fresh perspective!