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5 Breathing Exercises To Relax Your Mind

5 Breathing Exercises To Relax Your Mind

It might not sound very important, but learning how to utilise our breath is essential to the health of our body and mind. Think about it: we take care of our body by providing it with nourishing foods, so why don’t we bring the same nourishment to our body using our breath? Breath is necessary to our life just as food is necessary to our body, so it makes sense to ensure that we are aware and conscious of it.

Managing your breath has a positive impact on your sympathetic nervous system, taking it from an elevated fight or flight response to a calm response of the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system controls your rest, relax and digest response. Continued deep, controlled breathing exercises teaches your body to engage the parasympathetic nervous system, resulting in low blood pressure, less stress, and an overall relaxed feeling.

As Sheila Patel, M.D says in her article Breathing for Life: The Mind-Body Healing Benefits of Pranayama“Deep breathing can help calm and slow down the emotional turbulence in the mind.”

The Exercises

1. Nadi Shodhana or Alternate Nostril Breathing

This exercise is brilliant if you’re feeling worried or you need an energy boost. Nadi Shodhana is said to clear the channels and lower your heart rate. You might feel a bit odd doing it at first, but I can assure you, it feels good!

The Technique:

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  1. Hold your right thumb over your right nostril and inhale deeply through your left nostril.
  2. At the peak of your inhalation, close off your left nostril with your third and fourth fingers, then exhale smoothly through your right nostril.
  3. After a full exhalation, inhale through the right nostril, closing it off with your right thumb at the peak of your inhalation.
  4. Continue this for as many breaths as you like. Your breathing should flow effortlessly while your mind gently observes your flow of breath.

This exercise helps harmonize the left and right hemisphere of the brain and ensures that prana (force of life) flows smoothly. Here is the Chopra Centre’s guide to Nadi Shodhana breathing.

2. Sama Vritti or Equal Breathing

This breathing technique is very simple and can work anytime, but it’s been found to be super effective before bed. This exercise will introduce some balance to your breathing which will do wonders for your body and mind. It keeps your mind focused but calm, reduces stress, and calms the sympathetic nervous system. It’s also a useful technique if you have a presentation coming up or a big day at work looming. This exercise is ideal to do for a few moments before the event to just balance and ground yourself.

The Technique:

Inhale for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four. Inhale and exhale through the nose. As you get used to this exercise you can gradually increase the amount of breaths from four to six to eight.

Check out Dr. Robin Burzin’s article on how simple breathing calms your mind.

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3. Complete Belly Breath

This one is ideal if your mind feels non-stop and overactive. It brings your focus within and allows you to learn how to control your breath and anchor yourself. As Thich Nhat Hanh says “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”

Check out this article How to Breathe Correctly for a more extensive guide about similar breathing exercises.

The Technique:

You can do this one laying down and sitting. I prefer to do it laying down because I can really feel my belly expanding, like I’m supported by the earth.

  1. Get into a comfortable position and place your hand on your belly, relaxing your abdominal muscles.
  2. Inhale deeply, feeling your abdomen rise. This breath expands your lungs so you should feel your rib cage expand and your collarbone rise.
  3. At the peak of inhalation, pause for a breath (or longer, if you’re a pro!) then gently exhale with ease and fluidity.
  4. To ensure any air left in your lungs completely gone, contract your abdomen muscles slightly.

You can do this exercise anytime you wish. I find it’s an awesome one to do after some yoga, especially during savasana. If you don’t do yoga, this one is excellent at the end of the day or when you’re feeling tired and want to feel supported.

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4. Ujjayi or Ocean Breath

I love this breathing exercise. It really allows you to let go of all the problems of the day. It is absolutely ideal if you feel angry or frustrated as it’s extremely cleansing.

Pronounced “oo-jai”, many say this breath allows cooling pranayama to flow, which immediately settles and refreshes your mind.

The Technique:

  1. Inhale deeper than you normally would.
  2. With your mouth closed, breath out through your nose while constricting your throat muscles. You’ll know you’re doing it right when your breath sounds like waves in the ocean – hence the name ocean breath!

This breathing exercise can be tough to get the hang of. Sheila Patel says that, if you are having difficulty, then something you can do is to try exhaling the sound “haaaaaah” with your mouth open. Next, make a similar sound with your mouth closed and feel the air come through your nose. Once you’ve got the hang of it on the exhale, try it on the inhale using the same method.

Practise this exercise for 5-10 minutes in the morning and evening. It’s an excellent way to start the day. You can even set an intention for the day while using this breath in the morning, and in the evening you can allow this breath to wash the problems of the day away.

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5. Mindful Breathing

This exercise is excellent if you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed. By bringing your attention to your breath, you allow your mind to become still and peaceful. It’s a chance to give your mind a rest and then carry on the day feeling refreshed and energized.

The Technique:

  1. Sit comfortably.
  2. Inhale deeply through your nose.
  3. Exhale through the mouth.
  4. As you inhale and exhale, bring awareness to how the in-breath and the out-breath feel.

For beginners, I recommend doing this for five to ten breaths. It doesn’t sound like much, but the aim is to become aware of the aliveness of the breath and the vitality it gives to you and your body. If mindful meditation sounds like your cup of tea, then Thich Nhat Hanh has some excellent meditations you can do.

All of these breathing exercises can be done for three minutes or three hours — it’s up to you. It’s suggested that beginners start off by practising controlled breathing for a few moments and then gradually increasing the time. Eventually, you’ll find yourself unconsciously incorporating these exercises into your daily life. This will lead to improved overall health, a quieter mind, and a better way to approach the stresses of life. For more breathing exercises and tips, read Jordan Shakeshaft’s article 6 Breathing Exercises to Relax in Ten Minutes or Less

Ensure that you remain aware at all times of how your body is feeling. If you start to feel light-headed or uncomfortable, stop for a while and proceed with a less intense breathing exercise.

Remember: don’t pressure yourself. You can’t do breathing wrong!

“You are breathing in, and while breathing in you know that you are alive.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have

    Why You Need a Vision

    Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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    How to Create Your Life Vision

    Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

    What Do You Want?

    The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

    It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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    Some tips to guide you:

    • Remember to ask why you want certain things
    • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
    • Give yourself permission to dream.
    • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
    • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

    Some questions to start your exploration:

    • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
    • What would you like to have more of in your life?
    • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
    • What are your secret passions and dreams?
    • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
    • What do you want your relationships to be like?
    • What qualities would you like to develop?
    • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
    • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
    • What would you most like to accomplish?
    • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

    It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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    What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

    Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

    A few prompts to get you started:

    • What will you have accomplished already?
    • How will you feel about yourself?
    • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
    • What does your ideal day look like?
    • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
    • What would you be doing?
    • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
    • How are you dressed?
    • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
    • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
    • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

    It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next stepGive yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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    Plan Backwards

    It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

    • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
    • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
    • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
    • What important actions would you have had to take?
    • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
    • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
    • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
    • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
    • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

    Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

    It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

    Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

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