When you feel anxious, stressed out, worried, agitated, one of the best ways to find balance is by using your breath. Our heartrate naturally speeds up on our inhale and slows down on our exhale. We can use this to our advantage to create more balance, calm, or energy. When we have an even inhale and exhale, we create more balance. When we extend or accentuate the exhale, we create more calmness.
Here are some great go-to breathing exercises to help you to keep calm and carry on. We’ve also include links to videos to make it more clear:
Belly Breathing/Diaphragmatic Breathing: Start by breathing naturally and noticing the sensation of the breath. Where do you feel the sensation the strongest? The nostrils? The throat? Place a hand on your chest and a hand on your belly. You may be able to sense the movement of the breath. See if you can soften the belly and allow the diaphragm to move downward as you inhale. If it’s comfortable, slow the breath to a 5 or 6 count inhale and exhale (about 5-6 breaths per minute). Do this for 2-5 minutes or longer if you like. Here is a demonstration of this breathing technique: https://youtu.be/_xQJ2O4b5TM
Ocean Breath/Ujjayi Breath: Constricting the throat can help to extend the length of the breath. This breath also creates an audible “ocean-like” sound that can give you an external focus for your attention. Start by exhaling with the mouth open, making an audible “hah” sound, like you are fogging up your sunglasses to clean them. Try doing the same on an inhale. When you are familiar enough with the sensation, close your mouth and continue to make a slight sound. You will feel some constriction or light pressure at the back of the throat. Do this for 2-5 minutes, or longer if you like. Here is a demonstration of ujjayi breath: https://youtu.be/IQrsJ-yZWV8
Straw Breath: This breath extends the exhale, which slows down the nervous system. Start by inhaling naturally through the nose. Exhale through pursed lips, as if you were exhaling through a straw. You can actually use a straw if you have one, but it’s not necessary. Do this for 2-5 minutes. Here is a demonstration for straw breath: https://youtu.be/IyMH1nbMbH0
Triangle Breath: This is a calming practice. Using a count that feels comfortable to you, breathe in a 1:1:1 ratio. For example: breathe in for 5 counts; hold for 5 counts; exhale for 5 counts. It’s important that the breath feel comfortable. You may be able to extend the length with practice. Do this for 2-5 minutes.
Extending the Exhale: This calming breath can be used anytime, or in times of distress, craving, or insomnia. It’s very important that the breath feel comfortable. Start with an even triangle breath (5:5:5 or whatever is comfortable) and begin to extend the count on both the hold and the exhale. Some examples are: Breathe in for 4 counts; hold for 7 counts; exhale for 8 counts (4:7:8 breath). It’s also fine to decrease the hold. For example: breathe in for 5 counts; hold for 2 counts; breathe out for 8 counts (5:2:8). Or eliminate the hold if it makes you uncomfortable (4:8 or 1:2). Other variations include holding the breath out after the exhale (square breath). For example: breathe in for 4 counts; hold for 4 counts; breathe out for 4 counts; hold for 4 counts (4:4:4:4). This is a more advanced form of breathing, and some people find it aggravating. Remember the purpose is to calm. If you don’t feel calm, adjust the count, and find a ratio that feels good to you!! Do this for 2-5 minutes. Here is a demonstration for 4-7-8 breathing: https://youtu.be/qV3hccsqqKM