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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 September 16, 2019

How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

You have a deadline looming. However, instead of doing your work, you are fiddling with miscellaneous things like checking email, social media, watching videos, surfing blogs and forums. You know you should be working, but you just don’t feel like doing anything.

We are all familiar with the procrastination phenomenon. When we procrastinate, we squander away our free time and put off important tasks we should be doing them till it’s too late. And when it is indeed too late, we panic and wish we got started earlier.

The chronic procrastinators I know have spent years of their life looped in this cycle. Delaying, putting off things, slacking, hiding from work, facing work only when it’s unavoidable, then repeating this loop all over again. It’s a bad habit that eats us away and prevents us from achieving greater results in life.

Don’t let procrastination take over your life. Here, I will share my personal steps on how to stop procrastinating. These 11 steps will definitely apply to you too:

1. Break Your Work into Little Steps

Part of the reason why we procrastinate is because subconsciously, we find the work too overwhelming for us. Break it down into little parts, then focus on one part at the time. If you still procrastinate on the task after breaking it down, then break it down even further. Soon, your task will be so simple that you will be thinking “gee, this is so simple that I might as well just do it now!”.

For example, I’m currently writing a new book (on How to achieve anything in life). Book writing at its full scale is an enormous project and can be overwhelming. However, when I break it down into phases such as –

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  • (1) Research
  • (2) Deciding the topic
  • (3) Creating the outline
  • (4) Drafting the content
  • (5) Writing Chapters #1 to #10,
  • (6) Revision
  • (7) etc.

Suddenly it seems very manageable. What I do then is to focus on the immediate phase and get it done to my best ability, without thinking about the other phases. When it’s done, I move on to the next.

2. Change Your Environment

Different environments have different impact on our productivity. Look at your work desk and your room. Do they make you want to work or do they make you want to snuggle and sleep? If it’s the latter, you should look into changing your workspace.

One thing to note is that an environment that makes us feel inspired before may lose its effect after a period of time. If that’s the case, then it’s time to change things around. Refer to Steps #2 and #3 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity, which talks about revamping your environment and workspace.

3. Create a Detailed Timeline with Specific Deadlines

Having just 1 deadline for your work is like an invitation to procrastinate. That’s because we get the impression that we have time and keep pushing everything back, until it’s too late.

Break down your project (see tip #1), then create an overall timeline with specific deadlines for each small task. This way, you know you have to finish each task by a certain date. Your timelines must be robust, too – i.e. if you don’t finish this by today, it’s going to jeopardize everything else you have planned after that. This way it creates the urgency to act.

My goals are broken down into monthly, weekly, right down to the daily task lists, and the list is a call to action that I must accomplish this by the specified date, else my goals will be put off.

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Here’re more tips on setting deadlines: 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

4. Eliminate Your Procrastination Pit-Stops

If you are procrastinating a little too much, maybe that’s because you make it easy to procrastinate.

Identify your browser bookmarks that take up a lot of your time and shift them into a separate folder that is less accessible. Disable the automatic notification option in your email client. Get rid of the distractions around you.

I know some people will out of the way and delete or deactivate their facebook accounts. I think it’s a little drastic and extreme as addressing procrastination is more about being conscious of our actions than counteracting via self-binding methods, but if you feel that’s what’s needed, go for it.

5. Hang out with People Who Inspire You to Take Action

I’m pretty sure if you spend just 10 minutes talking to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, you’ll be more inspired to act than if you spent the 10 minutes doing nothing. The people we are with influence our behaviors. Of course spending time with Steve Jobs or Bill Gates every day is probably not a feasible method, but the principle applies — The Hidden Power of Every Single Person Around You

Identify the people, friends or colleagues who trigger you – most likely the go-getters and hard workers – and hang out with them more often. Soon you will inculcate their drive and spirit too.

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As a personal development blogger, I “hang out” with inspiring personal development experts by reading their blogs and corresponding with them regularly via email and social media. It’s communication via new media and it works all the same.

6. Get a Buddy

Having a companion makes the whole process much more fun. Ideally, your buddy should be someone who has his/her own set of goals. Both of you will hold each other accountable to your goals and plans. While it’s not necessary for both of you to have the same goals, it’ll be even better if that’s the case, so you can learn from each other.

I have a good friend whom I talk to regularly, and we always ask each other about our goals and progress in achieving those goals. Needless to say, it spurs us to keep taking action.

7. Tell Others About Your Goals

This serves the same function as #6, on a larger scale. Tell all your friends, colleagues, acquaintances and family about your projects. Now whenever you see them, they are bound to ask you about your status on those projects.

For example, sometimes I announce my projects on The Personal Excellence Blog, Twitter and Facebook, and my readers will ask me about them on an ongoing basis. It’s a great way to keep myself accountable to my plans.

8. Seek out Someone Who Has Already Achieved the Outcome

What is it you want to accomplish here, and who are the people who have accomplished this already? Go seek them out and connect with them. Seeing living proof that your goals are very well achievable if you take action is one of the best triggers for action.

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9. Re-Clarify Your Goals

If you have been procrastinating for an extended period of time, it might reflect a misalignment between what you want and what you are currently doing. Often times, we outgrow our goals as we discover more about ourselves, but we don’t change our goals to reflect that.

Get away from your work (a short vacation will be good, else just a weekend break or staycation will do too) and take some time to regroup yourself. What exactly do you want to achieve? What should you do to get there? What are the steps to take? Does your current work align with that? If not, what can you do about it?

10. Stop Over-Complicating Things

Are you waiting for a perfect time to do this? That maybe now is not the best time because of X, Y, Z reasons? Ditch that thought because there’s never a perfect time. If you keep waiting for one, you are never going to accomplish anything.

Perfectionism is one of the biggest reasons for procrastination. Read more about why perfectionist tendencies can be a bane than a boon: Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect.

11. Get a Grip and Just Do It

At the end, it boils down to taking action. You can do all the strategizing, planning and hypothesizing, but if you don’t take action, nothing’s going to happen. Occasionally, I get readers and clients who keep complaining about their situations but they still refuse to take action at the end of the day.

Reality check:

I have never heard anyone procrastinate their way to success before and I doubt it’s going to change in the near future.  Whatever it is you are procrastinating on, if you want to get it done, you need to get a grip on yourself and do it.

More About Procrastination

Featured photo credit: Malvestida Magazine via unsplash.com

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