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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 20, 2018

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

Being in a hurry all the time drains your energy. Your work and routine life make you feel overwhelmed. Getting caught up in things beyond your control stresses you out…

If you’d like to stay calm and cool in stressful situations, put the following 8 steps into practice:

1. Breathe

The next time you’re faced with a stressful situation that makes you want to hurry, stop what you’re doing for one minute and perform the following steps:

  • Take five deep breaths in and out (your belly should come forward with each inhale).
  • Imagine all that stress leaving your body with each exhale.
  • Smile. Fake it if you have to. It’s pretty hard to stay grumpy with a goofy grin on your face.

Feel free to repeat the above steps every few hours at work or home if you need to.

2. Loosen up

After your breathing session, perform a quick body scan to identify any areas that are tight or tense. Clenched jaw? Rounded shoulders? Anything else that isn’t at ease?

Gently touch or massage any of your body parts that are under tension to encourage total relaxation. It might help to imagine you’re in a place that calms you: a beach, hot tub, or nature trail, for example.

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3. Chew slowly

Slow down at the dinner table if you want to learn to be patient and lose weight. Shoveling your food down as fast as you can is a surefire way to eat more than you need to (and find yourself with a bellyache).

Be a mindful eater who pays attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of every dish. Chew slowly while you try to guess all of the ingredients that were used to prepare your dish.

Chewing slowly will also reduce those dreadful late-night cravings that sneak up on you after work.

4. Let go

Cliche as it sounds, it’s very effective.

The thing that seems like the end of the world right now?

It’s not. Promise.

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Stressing and worrying about the situation you’re in won’t do any good because you’re already in it, so just let it go.

Letting go isn’t easy, so here’s a guide to help you:

21 Things To Do When You Find It Hard To Let Go

5. Enjoy the journey

Focusing on the end result can quickly become exhausting. Chasing a bold, audacious goal that’s going to require a lot of time and patience? Split it into several mini-goals so you’ll have several causes for celebration.

Stop focusing on the negative thoughts. Giving yourself consistent positive feedback will help you grow patience, stay encouraged, and find more joy in the process of achieving your goals.

6. Look at the big picture

The next time you find your stress level skyrocketing, take a deep breath, and ask yourself:

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Will this matter to me…

  • Next week?
  • Next month?
  • Next year?
  • In 10 years?

Hint: No, it won’t.

I bet most of the stuff that stresses you wouldn’t matter the next week, maybe not even the next day.

Stop agonizing over things you can’t control because you’re only hurting yourself.

7. Stop demanding perfection of yourself

You’re not perfect and that’s okay. Show me a person who claims to be perfect and I’ll show you a dirty liar.

Demanding perfection of yourself (or anybody else) will only stress you out because it just isn’t possible.

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8. Practice patience every day

Below are a few easy ways you can practice patience every day, increasing your ability to remain calm and cool in times of stress:

  • The next time you go to the grocery store, get in the longest line.
  • Instead of going through the drive-thru at your bank, go inside.
  • Take a long walk through a secluded park or trail.

Final thoughts

Staying calm in stressful situations is possible, all you need is some daily practice.

Taking deep breaths and eat mindfully are some simple ways to train your brain to be more patient. But changing the way you think of a situation and staying positive are most important in keeping cool whenever you feel overwhelmed and stressful.

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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