Stressed Out? Relax with 3 Breathing Exercises

There is no doubt that our breath is important. On a biological level, the breath carries oxygen into our bodies. On a spiritual level, it can be thought of as your life force, which in some cultures is referred to as chi or prana. It is the very process that keeps us alive yet it is automatic that we tend to not put much thought into it.

Deep breathing completely fills our body with oxygen, yet most of us do not do this. Why is this? Well as we go throughout our day, we encounter different situations that may make our body react with a stress response. When this happens, our breathing gets shallower, which increases tension and anxiety. As a result we are not fully taking in breath and getting it into the lowest part of our lungs. On the other hand, when we take the time to breathe deeply, we elicit a relaxation response in the body which can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure. It doesn’t have to be long meditation either, just a few deep breaths and you will be surprised at what an impact it can have on your health and wellbeing. The next time you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed, try one of these breathing exercises. 

Ujjayi Breath

This breath has been used for thousands of years to enhance yoga practice. It is also referred to as the oceanic breath. It has the potential to calm your mind and body. To practice ujjayi, begin by sealing your lips and breathing in and out through your nose. Begin to relax and lengthen and smooth the breath. The key to this breath is to constrict the muscles in the back of the throat so that the air passage becomes smaller. To me, it sounds a bit like Darth Vader breathing. This audible breath is extremely helpful when practicing yoga, as it allows you to link breath and movement can and bring you deeper into your meditation. If you want more details on how to do it, read this!

Breath of Fire

Breath of fire is one of the foundational breath techniques used in Kundalini yoga. While you may feel funny the first time you do it, after you reap the benefits, you will no longer care. This breath works by flooding your body with oxygen while raising your vibrational energy. To begin, sit up straight, sick out your tongue and begin to pant like a dog, then close your mouth and transfer the breath to your nose. You will keep a forceful exhale and the inhale should come naturally. Some people may experience dizziness at first, but this could be due to the toxins released by this technique. Practice for a duration of 1-3 minutes, and you can work up from there.

Wim Hof Technique

This technique was introduced to me by two of my very favorite teachers in Los Angeles. I was intrigued by it, so I did some research. It turns out, Wim Hof is a Danish man who has been nicknamed “the iceman” for his ability to withstand extreme cold. He holds more than 20 world records, accomplishing astonishing feats like climbing Mount Everest dressed in nothing but shorts. He claims to be able to accomplish these feats through breathing and meditation. You can harness your own inner strength and practice the Wim Hof breath right at home. Please note: Always do the breathing exercise in a safe environment (e.g. sitting on a couch/floor). Never practice it before or during diving, driving, swimming, taking a bath or any other environment/place where it might be dangerous to faint. 

Begin in a comfortable seated position and inhale through the nose or mouth and exhale through the mouth in short, powerful bursts; as if you’re blowing up a balloon. Close your eyes and repeat this 30 times. After your 30 cycles, draw the breath in and fill the lungs to capacity, then let the air out and hold for as long as you can without force. Hold the breath until you experience the gasp reflex. Then, take a recovery breath by inhaling to capacity and holding that breath for about 10 seconds. You will be surprised at how long you can actually go without breath!  There is much more to learn about this technique, for more information and instructional videos, visit https://www.wimhofmethod.com/

Do you practice a breathing technique when stressed out?

Related: : The Health Benefits of Yoga Backbends and How to Practice Safely
Only Have 3 Minutes? Try Superbrain Yoga
Restorative Yoga Treat: How To Practice Legs Up the Wall

Photo: Dimiry Kotov via Unsplash

Kathryn Farrugia
Written by Kathryn Farrugia
Kathryn Farrugia is a passionate plant based cook and the founder of ZENutrition, where she provides nutrient dense meals to her clients. With the belief that education is the best way to make a difference, she works as a humane educator with the Ethical Choices Program, teaching others the importance of healthy and compassionate food choices. When not in the kitchen or the classroom, you can find her on the yoga mat or lacing up her running shoes. Kathryn is dedicated to making the world a healthier and happier place, one meal at a time. To learn more about ZENutrition, visit www.zenutritionfoods.com.