Overwhelmed, sleep deprived, and burned out? With hectic schedules, pressure to check things off a never-ending to-do list, and the belief that we must put our own self care last on that list it’s no wonder we get to feeling so stressed. Fortunately, there are breathing exercises that can help calm your mind and body, reduce anxiety, activate your brain’s “rest and digest” mode and help relieve stress and anxiety. Here are 3 ways you can work with your breath to feel more peaceful in just 10 minutes or less.
Equal Breathing 4-4
This breath is incredibly balancing for the mind and body. It can be used any time of day or night, whenever you need to take your mind off ruminating thoughts or calm a racing mind.
Sit or lay down in a comfortable position. Eyes can be opened or closed. Breathing through your nose (if at all possible) – Inhale for a count of 4. Then exhale for a count of 4. Repeat. If doing this one at night in bed, try starting on your back. Do Equal Breathing 4 times. Rotate to your right side and do the Equal Breathing for 8 times. Roll onto your left side and repeat 8 times.
Also called diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing, this breathing helps you use the large dome shaped muscle just below your lungs to let you breathe more efficiently. It helps expand the lungs, allowing you to decrease the effort it takes to breathe, slows your breathing rate, and relaxes your nervous system. If you are feeling stressed all the time, it may be difficult to breathe slowly at first. The diaphragm is a muscle, and it needs a little strengthening, too. Keep practicing and it eventually becomes easier.
To really feel this best, try it lying down first. Once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to do in any position. Place a hand on your belly and one on your chest so you can feel the movement. Breathing in slowly through your nose, fill up your belly and feel it rise. Exhale letting your stomach fall gently, using the muscles to press the air all the way out.
When we are experiencing acute anxiety, panic or stress, we tend to breathe in short, shallow little sips of air. This keeps our nervous system locked into the “fight, flight, or freeze” mode. One way to stop this cycle is to increase your exhale. Placing your focus on the exhale activates your relaxation response quickly.
To start, try this with counts of 3-6-6, then advancing to 4-8-8. Begin by inhaling for 3 counts (up one side of the triangle), holding your breath as you trace across one side for 6 counts, then exhale slowly for 6 counts as you trace your triangle back to the start. This exercise is very relaxing to the nervous system, so use with caution if you are driving or working with machinery. Seriously, though.
When you feel your body starting to relax and release some tension, bring your breathing back to a natural rhythm again. Notice now how you feel.
Breathing exercises are powerful tools for your health and wellbeing toolbox. Which one did you find the most helpful?