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5 Breathing Exercises To Relax Your Mind

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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.

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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 December 7, 2021

World’s 15 Weirdest Museums You Must Visit

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World’s 15 Weirdest Museums You Must Visit

When we think about culture one of the first things that come to mind are museums – it is ingrained in our collective consciousness that we need to visit a few museums when vacationing abroad, so we can then feel free to indulge in hedonistic pleasures because we’ve bowed at the altar of culture first. However, not all museums are created equal. While some may have your standard collections of classic artwork, statues and pottery fragments, there are a lot of unconventional and even fairly quirky museums around the world. If you like to travel and want to experience something new and truly unique, to be awed, then be sure to visit some of the following museums on your next vacation.

1. Cancun Underwater Museum

Let’s start off the list with something entirely different. The Cancun Underwater Museum boasts hundreds of beautiful sculptures such as “The Silent Evolution”, a huge crowd of people, and “Inertia”, a fat man sitting on a couch in front of the TV. These sculptures would evoke powerful emotions regardless of their location; however, being situated underwater gives them an air of mysticism and an almost unnerving calm. The marine flora and fauna has already become one with some of the sculptures, making the whole site look like the sunken remnants of an ancient civilization.

2. Paris Sewers Museum

We all admire the grand architecture of famous cities, particularly one as iconic as Paris, the city of romance and art. What people seldom stop to look at is the complex labyrinth that is the Paris sewer system. It is an entire network of tunnels as large as the city itself and it is also a museum that tourists can visit and explored, complete with tour guides. It doesn’t smell as bad as you’d think, so if you ever find yourself in Paris and have about an hour or so of time to kill, this is definitely an interesting option.

3. Franz Kafka Museum in Prague

A man with a dark and near dreamlike vision of the modern world, where bureaucracy, alienation, lack of empathy and human suffering are the order of the day, Franz Kafka is rightfully considered one of the greatest modern writers. The Franz Kafka Museum reflects some of the main themes of the authors works, which Kafka himself wanted his friend to burn after his death, and their unique atmosphere. The weirdest thing about it is probably the sculpture of two men urinating in a pool shaped like the borders of the Czech Republic, which are, for some reason, animatronic and can spell out words in the pool based on SMS messages that people send.

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4. Leila’s Hair Museum in Independence, Missouri

Art has always been very accommodating, allowing artists to choose from a huge range of different mediums and materials from which to create unique designs. That being said, I doubt you’ve ever considered hair as a valid material for creating works of art. Luckily, Leila’s Hair Museum is here to prove you wrong. With thousands of wreaths and various creative jewelry pieces made out of real human hair, which is said to have been popular in the Victorian period. There are multiple pieces containing hair from famous people, including the likes of Queen Victoria.

5. Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography in Saint Petersburg

The Kunstkamera houses Russia’s oldest museum, the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, which has exhibits ranging from interesting to bizarre and morbid. Peter the Great reportedly wanted to dispel myths about monsters and mythical creatures among his people, so there are plenty of deformed skeletons, jars with fetuses and rarities like two-headed animals. Some of the exhibits are not for those with a weak stomach, but they are definitely unique and rare.

6. Iceland Phallological Museum in Reykjavík

Iceland is known as “The Land of Ice and Fire”, a small and some would say magical island with a long and proud history. It’s no surprise that it would feature a world renowned museum, but what’s unusual about the Phallological Museum is the fact that it is devoted solely to showcasing penis samples from 93 different animal species – including the 67 inch front tip of a blue whale penis and specimens supposedly belonging to mythical creatures like trolls and elves. It definitely offers a unique experience.

7. Meguro Parasite Museum in Tokyo

Many museums feature animal exhibits, showcasing everything from dinosaur bones and large stuffed land mammals to unusual insects, but rarely does a museum focus solely on parasites. The Meguro Parasite Museum takes humanities worst nightmares, lays them before you and provides plenty of information on each and every one. Their motto is “Try to think about parasites without a feeling of fear, and take the time to learn about their wonderful world of the parasites”, and there really is a lot to learn if you can get over the initial feeling of unease.

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8. The Iga Ninja Museum in Mie

Western pop culture has been in love with ninja’s since the 80’s and we have only grown fonder of them with time. If you find this topic intriguing or just want to learn more about the whole ninja phenomenon, then the Iga Ninja Museum is the right place for you. You can see the numerous weapons and tools used by these legendary warriors and enjoy a practical display of some of the traditional techniques and tactics. It is a lot of fun and very informative to boot, great for people of all ages.

9. Bran Castle near Braşov in Transylvania

The name might not sound familiar at first, but the geographical location kind of gives it away – yes, this is the castle of Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia a.k.a. Vlad the Impaler, a.k.a. Count Dracula from the Bram Stalker novel and world-famous horror character. Bran Castle is the only Transylvanian castle that perfectly fits Stokers description of the world’s most famous vampire’s castle and has thus been dubbed Dracula’s Castle. It has been turned into a museum which every horror fan is welcome to visit and explore.

10. Malacca Museum of Enduring Beauty

The nature of beauty is a topic that has troubled mankind for millennia.  Aesthetic preferences and sensibilities have been very different in different regions and at different times, and as fashions changed so too did people try to change themselves to conform to the various ideals of beauty. The Museum of Enduring Beauty showcases the numerous traditions and the jewelry, tools and practices used by peoples the world over to try and make themselves as beautiful as possible. Practices such as foot binding, neck elongation, inserting huge discs into the lips and many others are explained in detail, which gives us an insight into our nature, and perhaps motivates us to see the current standards of beauty for what they really are – an artificially created set of desirable features based on a subjective interpretation of beauty.

11. The Museum of Human Disease in Sydney

Doctors spend years and years in medical school for a good reason – there are a lot of diseases that can plague humans. Some of these are more serious than others, but each one is interesting from a scientific standpoint. The Museum of Human Disease catalogs a huge variety of diseases and their effects on the human body, including the most common causes of death. You can participate in dissection workshops or explore some of the large number of vital organs on display. It is a real eye-opener and highly educational, if somewhat morbid and unusual.

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12. Museum of Medieval Torture Devices in Amsterdam

There are, of course, some parts of our history that we are not exactly proud of, and this includes wars and atrocities like torture. However, it is interesting to see just how creative people of the past centuries have been when it came to thinking up different ways of inflicting pain to fellow humans. If you’ve got a morbid curiosity for this sort of thing, the Museum of Medieval Torture Devices in Amsterdam has a lot to offer you. There are plenty of weird torture devices, complete with images and even sculptures, depicting the various torture methods that were in use, and the courteous staff is more than happy to answer any questions.

13. The Skull Tower of Niš

The Balkans region has had a very turbulent history, particularly in the past few centuries. In the nineteenth century, as Serbians sought to free themselves from their Ottoman oppressors, many battles raged, and one of the most famous was certainly the Battle of Čegar. When the tides of war changed and it became clear that the Turks would win, Serbian commander Stevan Sinđelić sacrificed himself and the remaining Serbian forces in an unprecedented act of bravery, blowing up the gunpowder storage and taking out thousands of enemy soldiers in the process. In order to silence the rebellion and frighten the people, Hurshid Pasha had a ten foot tower built using over 900 skulls of the fallen Serbian soldiers. The original Skull Tower suffered some structural damage over time, and now only 58 skulls remain in the wall, one which is said to belong to Sinđelić himself and is encased in glass. It is a fairly frightening, yet awe inspiring site.

14. Funeral Carriage Museum in Barcelona

Funerals are still somewhat of a taboo topic and it’s certainly something you’d mention in polite society. This is really a shame, since there are plenty of wonderful rituals that have been built around escorting the departed on his way to the afterlife. The vehicles used to transport the deceased have always had a somber tone, but where not without a hint of grandeur, as you can witness by exploring the Funeral Carriage Museum in Barcelona.  The exhibit consists of 13 beautiful funeral carriages and six coaches that were used to transport departed citizens to their eternal resting place.

15. Siriraj Medical Museum in Bangkok

The word “medical” in the name of this museum has surely tipped you off that you are in for something morbid and unusual. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it has a lot to offer. Also known as “The Museum of Death”, you can see everything from the mummified remains of a serial killer and cannibal to a large variety of human skulls and different preserved body parts. There are plenty of interesting examples of fatal injuries in the Forensic wing of the museum, and there is enough material to keep you occupied for several afternoons, if you aren’t squeamish.

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It is good to sometimes break from the mold and look for something a bit more thrilling and unusual than rusted bits of ancient swords, broken pottery and pieces of jewelry. These museums may be a bit weird, morbid or even spooky, but they will not disappoint. If you are an adventurous soul, be sure to check them out.

Featured photo credit: Igor Miske via unsplash.com

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