Wherever you go and whatever you’re doing, you always carry with you a powerful tool for managing stress: your breath.
Many of us handle stressful situations or feel a general sense of being ‘on edge’ every day. Modern life is busy, and we are constantly within reach of the demands and pressures of others via our smartphones — so it sometimes feels as though there’s no space or time to calm down.
Stress and anxiety can have a number of short term and long term effects, including:
- Low energy and/or low mood
- Problems with digestion
- A compromised immune system, resulting in colds and other illnesses
- Insomnia or unsettled sleep
- Constant worrying, and racing thoughts
- Poor memory or concentration
And prolonged periods of stress mean that you’re functioning day-to-day with high levels of stress hormones in your body; which has been linked to the onset of depression and mood disorders.
But what can you do? You don’t want to let stress get to you — but how can you take care of yourself and give your nervous system a break?
Use Your Breath
The breath has been used in a number of different meditative traditions for centuries as a tool for altering the state of the nervous system, and inducing a sense of calm. And now scientific research is backing up this ancient knowledge, with a growing body of evidence to prove that controlling the breath has a direct effect on the state of mind and the physiological function of the body.
You can use your breath to change your response to stress. This works on an immediately noticeable, emotional level; you will feel calmer and more in control when you use breathing techniques during a stressful situation. And it works on a physical level too — the stress hormones in your system fall, and your body shifts from being led by the sympathetic nervous system (the ‘fight or flight’ system) to the parasympathetic nervous system (the ‘rest and digest’ mode).
Cultivating an awareness of the breath also helps you to come into the present moment. In fact, conscious breathing is a crucial aspect of mindfulness meditation. Simply noticing the breath — even if you don’t try to control it at all — can interrupt negative thought patterns and remind you that you are here, in this moment, and in your body. And that alone is often enough to curb the spiraling effects of stress.
To help you harness the power of your breath, we’ve put together eight simple but powerful breathing techniques that you can start using right now.
Come back to your breath. Come back to calm.
1. Natural Breath Awareness
Natural breath awareness is perfect for use any time. It’s subtle, and no one will notice you doing it; so you can use this technique in the midst of anxiety-inducing situations at work or while out and about.
Without trying to control or change the breath, start to notice each inhale and exhale. Become aware of the natural rhythm of the breath. Notice the way the breath fills and expands the lungs; perhaps you notice that the spine extends a little with every inhale, and relaxes with each exhale.
The mind will wander. That’s fine. Allow thoughts to enter the mind, and then pass through — and gently bring the awareness back to the breath.
2. Simple Cleansing Breath
When we’re stressed, the body often responds by tensing up and trying to hold everything together, or hold everything inside. Our shoulders become tight; we clench our jaws; and we tend to move into shallow breathing, with sharp breaths staying high up in the chest.
Sometimes the best way to release the tension of stress is with a deep, full breath followed by conscious release.
So, when you notice you’re feeling stressed, take a pause. Draw a deep, full inhale through the nose, with the mouth closed — filling the lungs with as much air as you possibly can. Hold that breath in for a second or two. And then open the mouth and sigh the breath out. Let it go.
With that loud exhale, allow all of the tension in the upper body to release. And repeat as needed.
3. Abdominal Breath
Abdominal breathing connects you with your body and increases the flow of oxygen into your bloodstream. This then soothes the nervous system and gives you a chance to rest and relax. Like the first two techniques, it’s subtle — so you can use it anywhere, any time.
Breathing through the nose, take a deep inhale and allow the breath to travel right down into the lowest chambers of the lungs. The belly blows up like a balloon.
When you can’t expand the abdomen any more, slowly breathe out through the nose. As you do so the abdomen contracts; belly button draws back towards the spine.
Again, inhale into the abdomen, filling the belly with the breath. And exhale out of the abdomen.
Repeat 5-10 times and then allow the breath to return to a natural rhythm.
4. The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique
The 4-7-8 technique is a powerful stress reliever. It can be practiced sitting up or lying down; and can be used while lying in bed to help you get to sleep. Use this exercise at home, or in a situation where you know you can fully relax and won’t be disturbed.
Find a comfortable posture — either sitting tall, or lying down. Rest the tip of the tongue on the roof of the mouth, just behind the top teeth and take a few easy breaths to prepare. Your tongue should stay in this position throughout the practice.
Then let the lips part gently and make a whooshing sound as you breathe out — expelling all of the air from the body.
Close the lips, and inhale quietly through the nose. As you do so, count 4 seconds, silently in your head.
At the top of the inhale hold the breath in for 7 seconds.
And then part the lips and make that same whooshing sound as you exhale for a count of 8 seconds.
Take 4 rounds like this: inhale for 4, hold for 7, and exhale for 8. When you’re comfortable with 4 rounds you can gradually build up to 8 rounds.
5. Humming Breath
This is another deeply relaxing breathing technique to practice at home. It’s an excellent way to relieve anxiety and to interrupt negative thought patterns.
Sitting in a comfortable upright position, use the thumbs to close the ears, and allow the tips of the four fingers of each hand to rest gently on the face. The middle fingers rest on the eyelids to keep the eyes softly closed.
Take a few normal breaths. The teeth are just touching, but the jaw is relaxed.
On an exhale, start to hum with the mouth still closed. At the end of the exhale, take a deep breath in. And then again — exhale and hum. You may hum softly, or it could become very loud. Make it as loud as feels good to you.
The ears are still covered by the thumbs so you hear the sound within your head; and you can feel the gentle vibration of the hum in the softly touching teeth.
Repeat for as many breaths as you like, but start with at least 8 breaths.
6. Yogic Breath
Full yogic breath calms the nervous system and signals to the body that you are safe — that all is well.
Place the right hand on the belly, and the left hand on the chest.
To prepare, breathe into the right hand — filling the belly with the breath. And then breathe out of the right hand — belly falls. Take 4 more breaths like this; breathing into the right hand, and out of the right hand. Expand the belly as much as you can with each inhale.
And then breathe into the left hand — filling the chest with the breath. And breathe out of the left hand — chest falls. Take 4 more breaths like this; breathing into the left, and out of the left. With each inhale, fill the chest all the way up to the collarbone.
Finally, for full yogic breath, connect these two actions. Start by breathing into the right hand — belly rises. When the belly can’t rise any more, continue the breath into the left hand — chest rises. And then breathe out of the left hand — chest falls; and out of the right hand, belly falls.
Continue for 5 breaths. Inhaling right; left. And then exhaling left; right.
7. Equal Breathing
Equalizing the length of the inhales and exhales is a quick and effective way to enter into a steadier state of mind.
Start by noticing the length of your inhales right now, as they are. Are you inhaling for 2 seconds? 3 seconds?
And then match the length of the exhale to the inhale. If you inhale for 2, you exhale for 2. If you inhale for 4, you exhale for 4.
Gradually extend the length of both the inhale and exhale, keeping them equal. Aim to extend to 8 seconds — but take it slow. If this feels like too much, remain at 5 or 6 seconds.
8. Expansive Directed Breathing
This is one last technique that you can use when you have a quiet few minutes to yourself. This will increase the oxygen flow in your body and enhance your awareness of the breath, as you learn to direct the inhales to different areas of the body.
Sit in a comfortable, upright posture. And then place the hands on the ribcage with the fingertips just touching in the centre. Take a few easy, natural breaths.
Now, inhale deeply into both of the hands to expand the front of the ribcage. And exhale.
Inhale into the right hand — expanding the right side of the ribs. And exhale.
Inhale into the back of the ribcage; expanding the back of the body. And exhale.
And then inhale into the left hand, to expand the left side of the ribs. And exhale.
Repeat 4 more times. Notice the power of the mind to direct the breath and enjoy the sense of space and expansion that is created in the body.
We hope these breathing techniques give you the confidence to calm down — no matter what’s going on.
To support your body in handling stress and reducing anxiety, we recommend drinking alkaline water. Research shows that increased levels of acid in the body can make you prone to anxiety, stimulating the release of stress hormones.This adds strain to the body, but also saps your energy and negatively affects your mood and the function of your body’s organs. The DLYN Insulated Alkaline Water Bottle is an easy and affordable way to ensure you can drink alkaline water every day, giving you the best foundations from which to feel peaceful and well.