If you’re having a particularly stressful moment, here’s some wisdom from a Chinese philosophy text: “Let things ripen, and then fall. Force is not the way at all.”
Be gentle with yourself when you try to de-stress.
It sounds odd, perhaps, but I see patients becoming more stressed as they try to relax. They are trying hard cope better with stress, get frustrated and judge themselves when they ‘don’t get it’.
Try the following instead. These science-based breathing techniques to relieve stress won’t take much time at all. They’re simple. You’ll feel a difference in your mood after some deep breathing.
How Breathing Helps
When we are stressed, our breath tends to be shallow. We use only the top part of our lungs and don’t breathe deeply. Stale air becomes trapped in the bottom part of the lungs. We also tend to hold our breath when we’re stressed. When we don’t breathe enough, our tissues lack the oxygen they need. Without enough oxygen, we can become drowsy and confused. What’s more, our muscles become fatigued.
Research shows that breathing exercises can reduce anxiety, alter heart function, lower blood pressure, reduce the severity of asthma attacks, improve the quality of sleep, and increase energy and mental clarity. Relaxation and meditation combined with deep breathing can also relieve pain and improve your sleep. Deep breathing helps massage internal organs and improve lung capacity. Muscles need oxygen for their metabolic functioning and to heal injuries. In addition, people with good lung capacity tend to live longer.
The best part? You can do breathing exercises anywhere. No fancy equipment necessary.
Breathing Techniques to Reduce Stress
1. Alternate nostril breathing
Sit upright in a comfortable position. You’ll use your right thumb and ring finger to close your nostrils alternately.
Put your right ring finger on your left nostril to close the air passage. Breathe in through your right nostril. Pause at the end of a deep inhalation. When you are ready to breathe out, release your index finger and close your right nostril with your thumb and breathe out fully through your left nostril. Pause. Inhale through your left nostril. Press your left nostril closed with your ring finger and release your thumb and breathe out through your right nostril.
Continue for as many minutes as you can spare. Each exhale should be about twice as long as the inhale. You might find that this yogic breathing practice calms you, clears your mind, and gives you energy.
Ujjayi (pronounced oo-ja-EE) is another yogic technique of breathing. Sit comfortably upright. Take a big breath in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth, making the sound HHHAAA. Now breathe in and out through your nose but try to make the same HHHAAA sound from your throat during both the inhale and the exhale. Breathe in a steady rhythm, spending equal time breathing in and out, while making this sound from your throat. Another way to think of making the sound is to pretend that you are trying to fog up a mirror while breathing out through your mouth. Now make the same sound while breathing through your nose.
3. Three-part Breath
Sit comfortably upright and breathe through your nose. Before starting the three-part breath, take a few deep cleansing breaths and breathe out as much air as you can, using your stomach muscles to help you. Inhale and feel the breath go into the lowest one-third of your lungs, and feel your belly push out. Pause for a second but don’t exhale. Then fill the middle one-third of your lungs and feel your ribs and breastbone expand. Still don’t exhale. Then finally fill up the top of your lungs and feel the upper chest expand. Then slowly exhale through your nose in the reverse order: let the air out of the top of your lungs, then the middle, and finally let your belly contract to help you empty the air from the bottom of your lungs. Try to take twice as long to breathe out as to breathe in. You should find a comfortable rhythm for your breathing and not feel strained. Do ten cycles.
Do you use breathing techniques to relax? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.