Breath control has long been a method of relieving anxiety and stress in ancient medicine and wellness practices. Breathing is an essential part of yoga for this very reason. During this period of heightened stress and with the limitations of what we can do outside, many may be feeling overwhelmed and have difficulty managing these feelings.
Since breath control has such an ancient history connected to it, many are likely to experience positive results from incorporating it into their daily routines. While it might feel like a simple thing won’t make much difference, the essential steps to keeping anxiety and stress at bay are to establish routines and find things to control in the midst of the chaos.
1. Lion’s breath
This breathing exercise is derived from yoga and is a fun practice to try out and get you in a good mood. This one is especially suited to those who are apprehensive or self-conscious about breathing control exercises.
To start, sit cross-legged, place your hands on your thighs and spread your fingers wide. Sit up as straight as you can, shoulders down away from the ears. Take a deep breath in through the nose, filling your chest and stomach. Before breathing out, open your mouth wide and stick your tongue out as far as you can towards your chin. Exhale all the air from your lungs, tightening the muscles of your throat to make a ‘ha’ sound. Repeat this process 2-3 times.
This is a good practice to start first thing in the morning to help you loosen up and feel more relaxed before facing whatever your day has in store for you but can also be an effective way of taking a short break when you’re feeling a little overwhelmed.
2. Hummingbird breath
Another exercise from the world of yoga, hummingbird breath is also a good way of relaxing and focusing on something a little less serious. It’s best to do this exercise somewhere you won’t be distracting anyone, or with others from your household for extra entertainment.
Find a comfortable seat again, relax your face and close your eyes. Place your forefingers lightly on your tragus, the cartilage that covers your ear canal, on both sides. Take a big breath in through your mouth, filling your lungs as much as possible. Just before you breathe out, press your fingers into your ears and exhale through your nose with your mouth full, making a humming sound. Hum all the breath out of your lungs and repeat these steps as many times as is comfortable or until you feel more relaxed.
3. Mental picture deep breathing
This exercise you can do lying on your back or in a comfortable chair. Get comfortable and place your left hand on your belly, right hand over your sternum. Take a deep breath in and feel
your ribs and belly expand, hold your breath for five seconds before breathing out and notice how your belly and chest fall.
Breathe like this for 10-20 minutes and try to picture something in your mind which projects a personal feeling of calm. This could be an activity you enjoy, a place you like to visit or something that regularly makes you feel at peace. The point of this activity is to keep your focus on something other than the stressful influences on your life and attempts to achieve this by encouraging you to fill your brain with an abstract image while shifting your physical focus to the movement of your breath through your body.
4. Standing deep breathing
Start this exercise standing up with your feet hip-width apart and place your left hand on your belly, right hand on your chest. Direct your gaze straight ahead and allow your face to relax. Breathe in through your nose, counting up to five. Then, breathe out again without holding your breath at the tip of the inhale, counting down from five. Keep breathing like this for 5-10 minutes or keep going until you feel calmer and your breath has slowed sufficiently.
5. Roll breathing
Another exercise which focuses heavily on the physical movement of your breathing, this practise should be done lying down on the floor or in bed with your feet flat, knees pointing up. Place your left hand on your belly, right hand on your chest and practice breathing into your lower lungs so your belly fully expands. Breathe like this up to 10 times until you’re happy with it, then take a deep breath in through your nose so your belly expands and then your chest. Notice how this moves your hands placed upon your body.
Breathe out through your mouth, making a soft whooshing sound as the air leaves your lungs. Notice the fall of your belly and chest as your exhale and the way the breath rolls through your body. Repeat these steps for 3-5 minutes and think about how this process mimics waves as they hit the shore.
6. 4-7-8 breathing
This breathing exercise is fairly simple and can be carried out sitting down or standing up. Take a deep breath in through your nose counting to four. Hold this breath in and count up to seven before releasing the breath while counting to eight. Try and expel all the breath in your lungs by the time you reach eight and then repeat. Do this 3-7 times or as many as you feel comfortable doing.
7. Sun salutation variation
A slight variation on the popular flow of yoga poses which is designed to praise the sun and give thanks for its light. This is a more physical exercise so make sure you have plenty of room to do it in.
Stand up straight, keep your feet hip-width apart and place your hands together in a prayer position at your sternum. Take a big breath in through your nose and raise your hands to the
sky, spreading your arms into a ‘V’ shape, pointing your gaze slightly above you so your head tilts back. Breathe out, slowly allowing your hands to come as close to the ground as possible, bending over and letting your head hang loose.
On your next breath in, bring your body up halfway and keep your back straight, hands on your thighs, then exhale back to your folded position. Take another deep breath in through your nose, rising all the way up to bring your arms above you in the ‘V’ position again, then exhale back to your prayer position.
Repeat this just once or twice, trying to move in time with your breath at all times to let the air flow through you. This exercise is a great way to start your morning, clear your head and prepare you to face the day.
For those experiencing heightened stress and anxiety, in the current climate it can feel like something as small as breathing control is a futile exercise. However, it’s essential that, in a time where socialising is limited and our regular routines are so drastically disrupted, we find the time to set routines and take a step back from the pressures of life to focus on our own wellbeing.
This article was written by Ben Fielding from Miracle Leaf, online wellness store in the UK.