Just as the earth is starting to breathe, the world feels like it’s holding its breath. Life has been stressful for everyone. I don’t know about you, but I can feel in the air that we are all holding tensions in our bodies. If there is any time for us to remember to breathe, NOW is the time. Breathing techniques range from relaxing to energizing. It’s a powerful and medically studied practice to incorporate into your routine.
Dipping Your Toes
At first, practicing breath techniques can feel strange. I was way out of my element at the first yoga class where I was introduced to yogic and meditative breathing, and I thought it was flat out weird and woo-woo.
Coordinating my breathing was tough (whoa, did I need to practice!), so I just gave up all together. For several years, I went about yoga, exercise, and life in general, breathing however I would naturally. Unless an obvious breathing que was given by an instructor, I did not pay much attention, if any, to my breath.
Now, I couldn’t imagine not using at least one (if not a few) breathing technique throughout a yoga class or exercise. Learning to breathe with movement has radically changed my practice. I’ve experienced benefits both on and off the mat.
Don’t Hold Your Breath
It’s crazy that we need to teach ourselves to breathe properly. But it makes a world of a difference. I do breathing exercises all the time (not just in yoga)! When I’m in the shower, when I’m cooking, before falling asleep, when I’m walking the dog. It doesn’t always have to be the sort of thing that requires 100% focus and attention. Multitasking while doing breathing exercises is okay too, though you may need to build up to this. Sometimes I still catch myself holding my breath or breathing shallow.
Now more than ever, people need to be breathing! Juuust not on eachother. Keep that distance and fill those lungs with some fresh air! Try using one of the following breathing techniques throughout the day, or maybe even incorporate one into your meditation or try your hand at coordinating your breath with a yoga practice.
4-7-8 Breathing Technique
Dr. Andrew Weil developed the 4-7-8 breath based in yogic breathing techniques. This exercise is an extremely effective calming method that can help soothe you to sleep and reduce stress levels.
This is a great technique to use in a pinch when you’re feeling anxious as it can help minimize the fight-or-flight effect. In fact. the 4-7-8 breath is so effective Dr. Weil describes it as a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.”
This is a powerful breathing technique that increases in effectiveness and strength with more time and tones the vagus nerve. For some, the effects may not be apparent at first, but with consistent practice is can become a great stress relief tool.
- Find a comfortable position with good posture.
- Exhale completely
- Breathe in through the nose for 4 seconds.
- Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
- Release through gently parted lips for 8 seconds.
- Repeat up to 4 times when you’re first starting out, eventually building to 8 repetitions.
Wim Hof Method
He has been able to achieve incredible and impressive feats, which include climbing Mount Everest wearing nothing but shorts and shoes, holding world records for swimming underneath ice, and running a full marathon in the Namib Desert without drinking water. He greatly attributes his incredible abilities to mastering command of his body through his breathing method.
There are several studies being done on the effects of the Wim Hof Breathing Method on the body including brain, metabolic activity, inflammation, pain perception, and specifically, voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system.
Be warned that this breathing technique is intense, invigorating, and honestly, almost makes you feel high.
The video above is the best way I learned the Wim Hof Method on my own. He also offers online trainings and in-person trainings.
Breath of Fire
Based on Kundalini yoga, the Breath of Fire is a cleansing and energizing breathing technique that is meant to build heat in the body (read: workout). This breathing technique has a passive inhale and a powerful exhale, which activates the deepest abdominal muscle, the transverse abdominal.
it’s seriously hard work! You will start to feel the burn in the abdomen quickly as the powerful exhales contract the abdominal cavity. The benefits include: pain relief, detoxification, stress relief, and strength building. Start off with 30 seconds at a slower pace to maintain proper form, and build up from there.
Avoid this technique if you are pregnant, have vertigo, suffer from high blood pressure, have a spinal disorder, or a respiratory infection
- Find a comfortable position with good posture, maintaining length between the naval and heart.
- Breathe in and out through the nose. Quickly pull your abdomen towards the spine to create a powerful and short exhale.
- The inhale will be passive.
- Once you feel comfortable with the technique you can increase the speed. You will create an audible and fast sound.
- The goal is to maintain speed and control while equalizing the inhale and the exhale.
Breath Counting is a simple grounding breathing technique that everyone at any age can do. It can help settle the mind and develop deeper concentration.
It is exactly what it sounds like. The goal is to focus the mind on counting and the body on taking nice deep breaths so that you maintain a sense of presence and the brain doesn’t wander.
The counting is a tool to keep the brain focused, but you may find how deceptively difficult it can be to remember to start over once reaching 5 exhalations.
- Find a comfortable seated position. Close the eyes and relax the face.
- Inhale through the nose and exhale through the nose counting each exhalation.
- Once you get to 5, start again from 1.
- Repeat 5 times.
3 Part Breathing Technique
An easy exercise, the 3 part breath is another yoga breathing technique, and one of my favorites. It decreases the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and helps to manage stress.
It is a deep exercise that allows you to breath into every part of the trunk of the body. I have found that this breath is easiest laying down as the gravitational force is not compressing my spine.
- Inhale through the nose focusing on breathing into the belly first allowing it to soften and expand, then breathing into the chest expanding the ribs out and to the sides, and then breathing into the the neck.
- Exhale through the nose focusing on releasing breath in the neck, then the chest, and finally compressing the abdomen so the belly button moves in towards the spine.
The simplest of breathing techniques, Ujjayi, also known as ocean breath, is the basis of pranayama (breathing) in yoga. This is more of a technique meant to be sustained through an entire practice, rather than an exercise with rounds.
You may find yourself naturally doing Ujjayi breath throughout the day to relieve stress. Other benefits include lowering blood pressure, detoxification, and increasing blood oxygen levels.
I use Ujjayi breath regularly when I practice yoga as it helps to maintain a rhythm when moving through asanas and syncing movement to breath. Once you get the hang of it, Ujjayi becomes the meat and potatoes of practicing yoga asana (flow).
- Find a comfortable position.
- Inhale through the nose.
- Contract the back of the throat while exhaling slowly with control through the nose to make an audible sound similar to the sound of the ocean tide coming in and out.
- Your inhalations may even become audible.
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