With all of humanity’s progress, it’s ironic we’ve become worse at the basic task of breathing.

You can test this out for yourself by placing one hand on your chest and one on your stomach and breathing how you normally would.

If your chest expands more than your stomach, it means you aren’t using the full power of your diaphragm. This can trigger the body’s defense mechanisms and create a vicious cycle of stress.

There’s no need to panic, I regularly rely on my chest for breathing too. I have over a decade of Karate experience and 5 years of yoga and yet still battle my bad habits. It’s tough for anyone to always be aware of their breath.

I’m going to share the simple breathing techniques that help me when I start to feel overwhelmed. I mix them up depending on how I feel but try them all out and find what works for you.

NOTE: If at any point you feel unwell, return to your normal breathing. If you have any reason to be concerned with your health, check with a doctor first.

The Lion’s Breath (Simhasana Pranayama)

I’ll start with my favorite especially when I’m having a bad day. It’s not office-appropriate but great if you have a moment to yourself.

Take a seat and lean slightly forwards by resting your hands on your knees.
Take a deep breath in through your nose.
Open your mouth as wide as it can go while sticking your tongue out and down.
Exhale making a long “haaa” sound.
Breathe normally before repeating several times.
This technique is great for when you have excess nervous energy that you feel you need to get out. When I’m stressed I get tension in my jaw and the lion’s breath helps me relax my facial muscles.

Video walkthrough

Three-Four-Five

There are so many different prescriptions of how many seconds to breathe in, hold and breathe out. Despite training for many years, I find it hard to control a slow exhale. Yet it has been shown longer exhales trigger our vagus nerve and calms our body’s reactive state.

This is why I recommend Dr. Chatterjee’s 3–4–5 technique. It’s short enough to not be intimidating but significantly longer than most people’s natural breath when stressed.

Breathe in through your nose for 3 seconds.
Hold your breath for 4 seconds.
Breathe out through pursed lips for 5 seconds.
Repeat for several minutes as long as you feel comfortable.
The doctor found it reduced the symptoms of stress and anxiety in his patients and improved their sleep. It’s part of my daily routine now and I aim to take this type of breath every time I reach for a screen.

If this feels easy, you can upgrade to 4–7–8 breathing championed by Dr. Weil.

Video walkthrough

Humming Bee Breath (Bhramari Pranayama)

I like to practice this technique towards the end of my day to release tension but make sure others around you aren’t already asleep!

Sit down comfortably.
Put your thumbs gently over your ear canals.
Rotate your wrists so you can cover your closed eyes with your fingers.
Breathe in slowly.
Make a long humming sound and feel the vibrations through your face as you breathe out.
You want to make the hum last as long as you can whilst keeping it at a constant pitch.
After I have done a few of these, whatever was nibbling at my brain seems to have disappeared and I can go sleep with a sense of calm.

Studies have shown this technique reduced heart rate and blood pressure in patients after 5 minutes. The researchers found it led to the dominance of the parasympathetic nervous system which counteracts our fight-or-flight response.

Video walkthrough

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)

I felt silly the first time I did this in a yoga class but I couldn’t ignore how well it seemed to lower my heart rate. The challenge of breathing through one nostril at a time seemed to focus my mind and shut out my other thoughts.

Use the thumb on your right hand to close your right nostril.
Breathe in through the left nostril.
Hold the breath for a short count.
Use the right ring finger to cover the left nostril and release the thumb.
Breathe out through your right nostril.
Repeat reversing the side that inhales and exhales.
I use this technique when I feel myself letting external pressure get to me. It forms a circuit breaker for my mind and after I can return to what I was doing with fresher eyes.

Video walkthrough

Belly Breathing

Many of us don’t make enough use of our diaphragm so it’s useful to retrain.

Some people will be desperate to achieve the flat abs look so pull in their belly and unintentionally limit their breathing. For others, it’s simply damage from being hunched over a desk or stress tightening the surrounding muscles.

You can do this one when you wake up and are procrastinating leaving your bed:

Put one hand over your heart and one just under your rib cage.
Breathe in and feel your belly expand but your chest stays fairly still.
Exhale through pursed lips while pulling the abs back in.
Video walkthrough

I hope one of these techniques resonates with you and can find its way into your routine. Making time for one of these for 5 minutes a day could make a huge impact on your stress levels.

As you become more comfortable you may introduce several as you find out what works for you in different scenarios. It’s important to use these as part of a more general healthy lifestyle as no one technique will ever be a silver bullet.

Increasingly doctors are recommending breathing exercises to aid people with stress-related symptoms. Personally, a greater focus on my breath has made me calmer and stopped me from feeling overwhelmed so much.

I’m a happier person as a result.

Picture Credit- Created by the author — original image from cottonbro on Pexels

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Amardeep S. Parmar

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