As finals week quickly approaches, the stress can begin to mount until it feels like an impending avalanche. Take this as your reminder to slow down, breathe and engage in some much-needed self-care. Yoga is a great practice that you can incorporate into your daily routine to combat stress and get the blood flowing. Today’s focus is specifically on yoga breathing techniques and how to use them to reduce stress. Healthline outlines practical yoga breathing techniques to employ for stress relief in their article “Here’s How to Use Yoga for Stress Reduction.”
Time for a breather
Also referred to as pranayama, yoga breathing exercises help with relaxation and breath regulation, helping to reduce stress and calm the mind and the body. They can also help improve sleep quality and promote mindfulness. Yoga breaths can be performed during a yoga practice or used independently as needed throughout the day. Feel free to employ them as you encounter uncomfortable emotions or moments of acute stress. The common yoga breathing techniques to be outlined in this blog include alternate nostril breathing, ujjayi breathing, breath of fire and lion’s breath.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Sometimes referred to as nadi shodhana pranayama, alternate nostril breathing has many potential benefits, including stress relief, improved cardiovascular function, lung function, respiratory endurance, heart rate regulation and well-being.
How to perform alternate nostril breathing:
- Sit comfortably with legs crossed.
- Place the left hand on the left knee.
- Lift the right hand up toward the nose.
- Exhale completely and then use the right thumb to close the right nostril.
- Inhale through left nostril and then close the left nostril.
- Open the right nostril and exhale through this side.
- Inhale through the right nostril and then close this nostril.
- Open the left nostril and exhale through the left side. This is one cycle.
- Continue for up to 5 minutes. Complete the practice by finishing with an exhale on the left side.
(Information from Healthline’s “What Are the Benefits and Risks of Alternate Nostril Breathing?”)
Ujjayi breathing allows for calming of the mind by focusing on the breath.
How to engage in ujjayi breathing:
- As you inhale and exhale, your mouth must stay closed.
- Tighten the throat so that, as you breathe, you will hear a rushing sound similar to snoring. Attempt to breathe through your diaphragm.
- Try to keep your inhales and exhales equal in duration.
- It may at first feel like you are not getting enough air, but the technique should become easier as you continue to practice it over time.
(Information from Healthline’s “Benefits of Ujjayi Breathing and How to Do It”)
Breath of Fire
The breath of fire technique utilizes normal inhalations and powerful, rapid exhales. This forced exhalation style can help reduce stress, boost brain function and improve respiratory health, as well as strengthen the abdominal muscles and improve digestion.
However, it is not suitable for everyone because it can cause dizziness or lightheadedness. This technique is not suitable for people who are pregnant, have a respiratory infection or condition, a heart condition, or a spinal disorder. Stop and slow your breathing down if you experience discomfort during this technique. This is an exercise that you have to let your body grow accustomed to. Listen to your body as you breathe.
How to do the breath of fire:
- Sit cross-legged and tall.
- Your hands should be placed on your knees, palms up. If it helps, you can place a hand on your belly to feel it rise with your breath.
- Inhale through the nose, noticing your belly expand as you do.
- Without pause, exhale forcefully through your nose while also contracting your abdominal muscles. Inhales and exhales should be equal in length. Repeat until you have established a comfortable pattern.
- Continue the rhythm of inhaling passively and exhaling forcefully. Repeat several times.
- Speed up the inhales and exhales. The exhales should be loud and powerful. Repeat for 30 seconds. Over time, you can do this breathing technique for longer as you build stamina.
(Information from Healthline’s “The Benefits of Breath of Fire and How to Do It”)
Yet another colorfully named technique, lion’s breath or lion’s pose might look a little silly, but it can also help improve mindfulness, sleep quality, stress and anxiety.
The steps for a lion’s breath are:
- Sit in a comfortable seated position. Some recommendations are thunderbolt pose, hero pose, half-lotus and easy pose (cross-legged).
- Lean forward slightly, bracing your hands on your knees or the floor.
- Spread out your fingers as wide as you can.
- Inhale through the nose.
- Open up your mouth wide and stick your tongue out, stretching it down toward your chin.
- Exhale with force, carrying the breath across your whole tongue.
- During the exhale, form a “ha” sound from deep in your abdomen.
- Breathe normally for a couple of beats.
- Repeat up to seven times. Finish by breathing deeply for one to three minutes.
- To take the exercise further, you can set an intention to let go of anything that you don’t wish to carry with you. With each exhale, imagine you are releasing whatever no longer serves you. If you experience resistance, acknowledge it and trust your ability to let it go when it is time. Then, think about what you would like to invite into your life, such as joy, good health, calm or laughter.
(Information from Healthline’s “Practicing Lion’s Breath”)
There are so many different breathing techniques to try that can do wonders for your stress levels. See what works for you!
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