Breathing is life a fundamental act that sustains our very existence. Yet, beyond its basic function of keeping us alive, breathing can also be harnessed through exercises to enhance our physical and mental wellbeing. This article will guide you through the techniques.
By intentionally guiding our breath, we can influence our physiological states, regulate stress, and cultivate a deeper sense of inner peace. Engaging in breathing exercises is thus not only about living but living well, with an enriched awareness of the breath’s power to harmonize body and mind.
Our breath is directly connected to our central nervous system — that’s a big network in our body that sends signals to help us relax or be alert.
When we do breathing exercises, it’s like we’re giving special instructions to this network.
Usually, we don’t have to think about breathing; it just happens.
But when we focus on it and control it, like breathing slowly or holding our breath for a bit, it sends a message to our body to chill out. This can make our heartbeat slow down and our body feel calm, kind of like when you’re sitting quietly and reading a good book.
Doing these exercises can also make our lungs stronger and help our body use air better, so we feel more clear-headed and relaxed.
|Breathing Exercise||Primary Purpose|
|4-7-8 Breathing||Calm the nervous system, aid in sleep|
|4-2-4 Breathing||Quick relaxation, balance the nervous system|
|HRV Breathing||Optimize heart rate variability, improve stress resilience|
|Box Breathing||Improve focus and concentration|
|Alternate Nostril Breathing||Harmonize brain hemispheres, energy balance|
|Breath of Fire||Energize and stimulate the body and mind|
|Lion’s Breath||Relieve tension, stress reduction|
|Equal Breathing||Promote relaxation, improve focus|
|Resonant Breathing||Enhance heart-lung coordination, reduce stress|
|Sitali Breath||Cool the body, calm the mind|
|Deep Breathing||Oxygenate the body, stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system|
|Quieting Response||Reduce stress through visualization and deep breathing|
|4-8 Breathing||Activate the body’s relaxation response|
A simple routine developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, inspired by ancient yoga techniques.
Purpose: To calm the nervous system and help with sleep.
Benefits: Reduces anxiety, helps you fall asleep faster, and can control cravings.
Instructions: Breathe in quietly through the nose for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and exhale forcefully through the mouth for 8 seconds.
A traditional practice known as Nadi Shodhana in Sanskrit.
Purpose: To balance the body and mind, and harmonize the two hemispheres of the brain.
Benefits: Enhances focus, supports respiratory health, and promotes relaxation.
Instructions: Close off one nostril and inhale, switch nostrils and exhale, then inhale on the second nostril, and switch back to exhale through the first.
A balanced breathing technique that’s easy to remember.
Purpose: To provide quick stress relief.
Benefits: Balances the nervous system, reduces stress, and helps with emotional regulation.
Instructions: Inhale through the nose for 4 seconds, hold for 2 seconds, and exhale through the nose for another 4 seconds.
An energizing practice also known as Bhastrika.
Purpose: To invigorate the body and clarify the mind.
Benefits: Boosts energy, improves digestion, and increases oxygen delivery to the brain.
Instructions: Take quick, forceful breaths through the nose, emphasizing the exhale while the inhale happens passively.
Breathing in sync with your heart’s natural rhythm.
Purpose: To enhance heart rate variability for better stress management.
Benefits: Increases resilience to stress, improves cardiovascular health, and enhances emotional well-being.
Instructions: Find a comfortable rhythm where your heart rate varies the most (often around 5-7 breaths per minute) and breathe in and out deeply.
Known as Simhasana, this technique mimics the roar of a lion.
Purpose: To relieve stress and tension in the throat and face.
Benefits: Stimulates the throat, relieves tension, and can help with respiratory health.
Instructions: Inhale deeply through the nose, then exhale forcefully through the mouth while making a ‘ha’ sound and stretching the tongue out.
A technique used by Navy SEALs to stay calm and focused. Breathing with an equal count for inhalation, hold, and exhalation.
Purpose: To enhance concentration and mental performance.
Benefits: Helps with focus, reduces stress, and improves mental clarity.
Instructions: Inhale for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, and hold again for 4 seconds.
Called Sama Vritti, this promotes balance by making breaths equal in length.
Purpose: To calm the nervous system and reduce stress.
Benefits: Promotes mental calmness and focus, and aids in relaxation.
Instructions: Inhale through the nose for a count, and exhale through the nose for the same count, typically between 3-5 seconds.
Breathing at a specific rhythm that promotes relaxation.
Purpose: To decrease stress and improve mood.
Benefits: Reduces anxiety, improves heart rate variability, and can lower blood pressure.
Instructions: Inhale for 5 seconds and exhale for 5 seconds, finding a comfortable rhythm.
A cooling breath that involves a rolled tongue or pursed lips.
Purpose: To cool the body and calm the mind.
Benefits: Can lower body temperature, aid in digestion, and promote relaxation.
Instructions: Curl the tongue and inhale through the mouth, then exhale through the nose.
Also known as diaphragmatic breathing, emphasizes full oxygen exchange.
Purpose: To fully oxygenate the body and promote relaxation.
Benefits: Reduces heart rate, lowers stress, and improves stamina.
Instructions: Breathe in deeply through the nose, allowing the abdomen to rise, and exhale slowly through the mouth.
Combines visualization with deep breathing to combat stress.
Purpose: To provide immediate stress relief.
Benefits: Reduces muscle tension, calms the mind, and helps with emotional regulation.
Instructions: Visualize the breath as warm air entering through the soles of your feet as you inhale deeply, imagine this warmth moving up through your body, relaxing each part it touches, and then exhale slowly, picturing the warm air leaving back down through your feet. Repeat this cycle for a few minutes, focusing on the sensation of relaxation spreading throughout your body with each breath.
A calming exercise that emphasizes prolonged exhalation.
Purpose: To activate the body’s relaxation response.
Benefits: Reduces stress, helps with anxiety, and can prepare the body for sleep.
Instructions: Inhale through the nose for 4 seconds, then exhale through the mouth for 8 seconds. Ensure the exhale is smooth and steady.
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