Anxiety can be overwhelming and all-consuming. As many as one in six South Africans suffer from anxiety and depression and over 40 million adults in the United States.
When anxiety hits it feels like a spiral you can’t get out of. However, there are techniques and practices you can do to bring yourself back into the present. A combination of yoga for anxiety as well as various breathing exercises can help calm the body and mind.
Keep reading to find out how you can use your breath to find relaxation in moments where you feel despair.
Breathing Techniques For Anxiety
Breathing is an automatic function of the body that moves air in and out of the lungs. Generally, we don’t give it much thought. It facilitates internal gas exchange to allow the body to operate and exist.
Controlling your breathing reduces the heart rate and in turn, relieves stress and anxiety. These are a few exercises you practice to slow down in moments of panic.
4-7-8 Breathing Technique
4-7-8 breathing is also known as ‘relaxing breath’ is a deep breathing exercise. The numbers in the name correspond to the number of seconds you inhale, hold your breath, and exhale.
Take just five minutes for yourself and find a comfortable seat. Close your eyes and bring your awareness to your breath. Lightly place the tip of the tongue on the tissue right behind the top front teeth.
Breathing gently through the nose, inhale for four seconds. Hold your breath for 7 seconds and forcefully exhale through your mouth for eight counts. Make a ‘whoosh’ sound on the exhale while pursing your lips.
Repeat this for as long as you feel necessary, four times at least as a meditation breathing technique. This practice aids with stress and anxiety management and also helps with controlling anger responses.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate nostril breathing is part of yogic pranayama practice, taught in yoga teacher training. In Sanskrit, it’s known as nadi shodhana pranayama, meaning “subtle energy clearing breathing technique.”
To practice alternate nostril breathing, find your way into a comfortable sitting position. Bring your right hand up to your nose and place your left-hand palm down on your left knee.
Place your index and middle finger gently in the space between your eyebrows. You will use your thumb and ring finger and alternately block your nostrils.
Close your eyes and gently exhale everything out. Use your right thumb to block your right nostril and deeply inhale through the left nostril. Close the left nostril with your right ring finger and open your right nostril. Exhale through the right nostril.
Inhale through the right nostril and then close this nostril. Open the left nostril and exhale through the left side. Repeat this cycle for up to five minutes.
This breathing technique will help to relax your body and mind. As the stress and anxiety disperse you will feel that your awareness and focus increase.
Simhasana Pranayama (Lion’s Breath)
Lion’s breath is often practiced first thing in the morning to increase energy. However, you can practice it when you’re stressed to move the anxiety that sits in the body.
To practice this breathwork, B.K.S Iyengar suggests kneeling with your buttocks resting on your feet and criss crossing your ankles under your seat. Alternatively, sit in a way that’s comfortable for an extended amount of time.
Place your hands palms-down on your knees. Empty your lungs and deeply inhale through your nose. Exhale strongly through the mouth, making a "ha" sound. As you exhale, open your mouth wide and stick your tongue as far out as possible towards your chin.
Inhale returning and return your face to a resting expression. Repeat this between four to six times. If your ankles are crossed, switch the feet so the opposite one is on top halfway through your repetitions.
While you may feel a bit silly practicing this breath the humor, along with the focus and calming of the mind, allows for you to feel less anxious and stressed.
Kapalabhati (Fire Breath)
Performing Kapalabhati regularly cleanses the lungs and diaphragm. This makes it possible for us to take deeper breaths and get more oxygen into our bodies. In turn, the increase in oxygen calms the body and mind.
Kaphalabhati is also detoxifying. It gets the blood circulating through your body in a fast and effective manner. This is helpful in removing toxins and buildup of other substances that build up in the body due to stress.
To practice Kapalabhati or Fire Breath, make your way into a comfortable sitting position. If it’s comfortable for you, sit kneeling with your seat resting on your feet.
Sit up tall and lengthen your spine.
Inhale and exhale gently and easily through the nose and place your right palm onto your belly. Take a deep inhale. Exhale short and strong through the nose, pulling in your stomach and navel sharply back towards the spine. Feel your abdominal muscles contract under your right hand.
Focus on the short sharp exhales and your inhale in between will be automatic. Do a round of 20 breaths and then exhale completely and return to your normal breath. Relax with your eyes closed. Continue your deep breathing and observe the sensations in your body.
Kapalabhati increases the metabolic rate, energizes the nervous system, and rejuvenates brain cells. This aids in calming and uplifting the mind.
Final Thoughts on Deep Breathing for Anxiety
No matter where you are in your yogic journey life can sometimes feel like it’s getting the better of us. Remembering or learning simple breathing exercises for anxiety can be a game-changer when stress creeps in.
Whether you’re just started yoga or you’ve been practicing for years, it’s helpful to learn (or relearn) tools that bring you back into the present. Pranayama, or breathwork, means life force. If we learn to harness our life force we can find peace whenever we need it.
If you’re looking to deepen your practice and understand more about pranayama and other yogic practices have a look at my yoga teacher training.
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