I had previously written a few sentences about my life as a swimmer relating to this topic, until I experienced some pretty bad anxiety creep up on me last night (yes, anxiety even strikes yoga teachers).
The feelings of wanting to escape, the heat building within, the fidgeting…my past anxiety, fears and experiences came rushing back in, hard. I was in public, unable to escape and needed a way to calm down (I normally begin to worry that I look like a crazy person when having an anxiety attack, making it worse). I turned to my breathing. It slowly began to change the way I was feeling. In this moment, I remembered that this is exactly why yoga is in my life. It has allowed me to become educated about breathing, relaxation and how to use your mind to overcome situations.
With that said, being mindful and educated about your breathing is the first step towards overcoming some negative health factors you may experience! Breathing techniques can have a wide variety of benefits. Here are 5 ways in which you can become strategic about your breathing for better health:
1. Reducing Anxiety
If you suffer from anxiety, I feel your pain. You need and want to escape the situation. By calming your breathing, you can then in turn calm the mind and thoughts that cause these anxious feelings. You must find which techniques work for you and may depend on the situation you are in. These breathing techniques will not cure anxiety, but can begin to change the course of how you react in certain situations.
- Counting Your Breaths – you can do this where ever you are. If you are able to, close your eyes while you count. Inhale, counting to 4. Briefly pause. Exhale, counting to 4. If you can take longer inhales and exhales, say 8 counts, go for it. Continue focusing on your breathing for a minute or longer until you begin to feel more relaxed and calm.
- Deep Belly Breathing – using complete inhales and exhales through the chest and belly to begin relaxing the body. Always begin in a comfortable position in which you are strong and lengthened through the spine, either sitting, laying flat or standing. Inhale slowly allowing your breath to fill up the belly and chest completely. You may want to put your hand on your stomach to feel the belly rising and falling. Exhale slowly and completely through the belly and chest. Continue this for 5-10 complete rounds.
2. Reducing Stress
WOW! The American Psychological Association and American Institute of Stress published a study in 2014 that states, 77% of people regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress and a whopping 73% of people regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress. As a whole, our population is deeply in need of controlling our stress levels, as it causes so many negative effects on our mind and body. Here’s some ways to help battle your stress:
- Begin a practice of mindful breathing. As I have become more dedicated to my yoga practice, I notice myself normally breathing in and out with deep full breathes. You will adapt to changes with practice. Schedule a few minutes each day to focus on a breathing exercise. Focus on times or situations in which you may become stressed or trigger a stress response (this also goes for anxiety). You may want to breathe before any of these times or during to help relax you in the situation.
- Maybe you schedule breathing breaks in the morning and in the afternoon at work (5-10 minutes), as soon as you wake up and before bed or before work and right after work.
- If you’re already making time to breathe, try meditating with it! Here’s a nice beginners guide.
- Create a relaxation space for yourself at home. This is a place where you can decompress, escape any stress and be in a calm environment that is all yours.
- And yes, yoga is always something I recommend as well!
John Townsend, a Stress Management consultant, wrote a great blog post on deep breathing and meditation to reduce stress.
3. Helping you to Fall Sleep
After talking with a friend about how she has been having problems sleeping, I stumbled upon this breathing technique on Good Housekeeping. Another breathing technique to try is extended exhaling.
- Extended Exhales – not only will this help to control the mind, but exhaling completely will allow you to expand your inhales, taking in more air. Begin by inhaling for 4 counts, pausing at the top, and slowly exhaling for an 8 count. The key to making the full 8 counts is to slow down the breath, making it a steady exhale instead of a fast exhale in the beginning.
4. General Relaxing
Most breathing techniques will create a much more relaxed, calm state, so you will be able to do any of these exercises to achieve a more relaxed state. By performing a timed breathing exercise, you can become more mindful of deep breathing to help aid you in future situations.
- Timed Breathing – in 60 seconds, most of us probably take anywhere from 12-20 breaths. By focusing on exaggerating your inhales and exhales, along with pausing between inhales and exhales, you may notice your breathing greatly slows and your body becomes more relaxed.
- Time yourself for 60 seconds breathing normally. Count each breath (inhale and exhale is 1).
- Time yourself for 60 seconds again. This time, focus on lengthening each inhale and exhale, taking a pause at the top and bottom of the breath, for another 60 seconds. Compare the numbers. You may be surprised that you can get down to 2-4 breaths!
5. Increased Energy
Pranayama is the control of breath in yoga, used to control internal energy and achieve a healthy mind and body. Different techniques have difference focuses and effects on your energy. For increased energy, here are 5 Energizing Pranayama Techniques.
Take a few moments to focus on your breathing right now. Are you breathing deeply, shallow, fast, slow? Be mindful, try some of these ideas, and let me know if they helped!