Medical studies show that stress is toxic. One of the most devastating results of being stressed is that we begin to hold our breath or breathe shallowly, depriving our sacred bodies of oxygen. No surprise that suffocating isn’t good for you. Yoga practitioners know that focusing on and controlling the breath is critical to good sleep, a clear and peaceful mind and good health. Here are three simple Yoga breathing techniques that, when practiced regularly, can make a huge difference in how you deal with life’s stresses.
Yoga breathing techniques are called Pranayama in Sanskrit. You don’t have to be a guru or a contortionist to practice these simple, helpful breathing exercises. Sit comfortably cross-legged or lie on your back with pillows supporting your knees and neck. Eyes closed, please.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate nostril breathing calms the body and focuses the mind. With your left hand, place your thumb to the left side of your nose and your index finger to the right side. Close your left nostril with your thumb and draw in a slow, deep, full breath with your right nostril. Close your right nostril with your index finger, open the left nostril and exhale very slowly. Inhale through your left nostril, close it. Open right nostril, exhale. Inhale with right nostril and repeat the alternations ten times or more.
Belly breathing grounds you in the present moment and soothes your mind. Relax and notice your breathing, but don’t try to change it. For a minute or two just focus on how air is passing in and out. If thoughts crowd into your mind, send them drifting down a quiet river and come back to your breath. Is your breath fast and ragged or is it slow, but shallow? Noisy? Begin to inhale deeply and slowly through your nose. Calm. Each time, extend your belly and fill it completely with fresh, cool air, noticing the temperature of your inhale. Exhale slowly, pushing air out until your belly seems to be touching your spine. The belly is flat, empty and deflated. Notice the warmth of the breath as you exhale. You’re in no hurry. Your goal is to expand your lungs, take in clean, beautiful air and cleanse the pathway. Repeat four or five times.
Balanced breath slows your heart rate and disperses stress. This is simple and effective. Eyes closed, consider your natural breathing pattern and let it be what it is for a few moments. Feel the rhythm or lack of rhythm. Notice the speed and quality of the breaths. Now, as you inhale, count a slow count to five (like this: “one angel, two angel, three angel…”). Breathe out to the same count. If you need longer or shorter intervals, go ahead and change them up. Your goal is to keep the inhale and exhale exactly the same length for a duration of five to ten minutes.
Be kind to yourself this year. Promise yourself a healthier, calmer year in which you nurture your body, soul and mind. Here’s to small changes for a long and healthy life.