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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 May 15, 2019

How to Tap Into the Power of Positivity

How to Tap Into the Power of Positivity

As it appears, the human mind is not capable of not thinking, at least on the subconscious level. Our mind is always occupied by thoughts, whether we want to or not, and they influence our every action.

“Happiness cannot come from without, it comes from within.” – Helen Keller

When we are still children, our thoughts seem to be purely positive. Have you ever been around a 4-year old who doesn’t like a painting he or she drew? I haven’t. Instead, I see glee, exciting and pride in children’s eyes. But as the years go by, we clutter our mind with doubts, fears and self-deprecating thoughts.

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Just imagine then how much we limit ourselves in every aspect of our lives if we give negative thoughts too much power! We’ll never go after that job we’ve always wanted because our nay-saying thoughts make us doubt our abilities. We’ll never ask that person we like out on a date because we always think we’re not good enough.

We’ll never risk quitting our job in order to pursue the life and the work of our dreams because we can’t get over our mental barrier that insists we’re too weak, too unimportant and too dumb. We’ll never lose those pounds that risk our health because we believe we’re not capable of pushing our limits. We’ll never be able to fully see our inner potential because we simply don’t dare to question the voices in our head.

But enough is enough! It’s time to stop these limiting beliefs and come to a place of sanity, love and excitement about life, work and ourselves.

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So…how exactly are we to achieve that?

It’s not as hard as it may seem; you just have to practice, practice, practice. Here are a few ideas on how you can get started.

1. Learn to substitute every negative thought with a positive one.

Every time a negative thought crawls into your mind, replace it with a positive thought. It’s just like someone writes a phrase you don’t like on a blackboard and then you get up, erase it and write something much more to your liking.

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2. See the positive side of every situation, even when you are surrounded by pure negativity.

This one is a bit harder to put into practice, which does not mean it’s impossible.

You can find positivity in everything by mentally holding on to something positive, whether this be family, friends, your faith, nature, someone’s sparkling eyes or whatever other glimmer of beauty. If you seek it, you will find it.

3. At least once a day, take a moment and think of 5 things you are grateful for.

This will lighten your mood and give you some perspective of what is really important in life and how many blessings surround you already.

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4. Change the mental images you allow to enter your mind.

How you see yourself and your surroundings make a huge difference to your thinking. It is like watching a DVD that saddens and frustrates you, completely pulling you down. Eject that old DVD, throw it away and insert a new, better, more hopeful one instead.

So, instead of dwelling on dark, negative thoughts, consciously build and focus on positive, light and colorful images, thoughts and situations in your mind a few times a day.

If you are persistent and keep on working on yourself, your mind will automatically reject its negative thoughts and welcome the positive ones.

And remember: You are (or will become) what you think you are. This is reason enough to be proactive about whatever is going on in your head.

Featured photo credit: Kyaw Tun via unsplash.com

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