Breathing in a conscious way is a fundamental element of yoga and it’s one of my favourite wellness tools.
I personally use some simple yet effective breathing exercises in my everyday life and I teach them in my yoga classes and workshops.
Pranayama or breath control is the 4th element (or limb) of yoga according to Pantali’s Yoga Sutras, a classical textbook on yoga that was written about 2000 years ago.
Pranayama is done during yoga postures and in some meditations but it’s also a practice by itself that has wellness and healing benefits.
Here are 3 breathing exercises you can do to manage stress and anxiety. They can be done in only 5 minutes.
#1 Kapalbhati Breathing Technique or “I clear my mind”
Kapalbhati is a “mind detox” breathing technique.
I’m sure you experience these moments when your mind is so busy and full of thoughts pulling you in many directions that you feel exhausted even though you haven’t done anything than just thinking.
Do you know the saying “where the mind goes, the energy flows”? It tells how our energy is dispersed when our mind is all over the place.
Kapalbhati in Sanskrit means “shinning skull”, “clear skull” or “light skull”.
Kapalbhati is a mind cleansing breathwork that clears and refreshes the mind.
How to practice Kapalbathi.
1. Sit in a crossed legged position with your back straight, on a cushion or your yoga mat.
Or sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
Rest your hands on your thighs. Close your eyes.
2. Take a few deep breaths through the nose.
3. Then, take a nice inhalation and exhale forcefully but gently through the nose, in quick short bursts, contracting the low belly.
4. On each exhalation, the breath is quickly pushed out of the nose and when the belly relaxes the inhalation happens automatically, in a passive way.
5. Continue to focus on the outbreath as you pull your navel back towards the spine.
6. The active short exhalation through the nose will be followed by a passive short inhalation through the nose, with a relaxed abdomen.
Take 20 breath this way to complete one round of Kapalbathi breathing. Then take a few normal, natural breaths through the nose.
Go at your pace and always stay safe.
Repeat this breathing exercise 2 more times.
Breath work should be practiced on an empty stomach, specially this one with an active exhalation that contracts the abdomen. After a Kapalbhati’s breathing session, you may feel that you’ve done some abs workout. 😉
#2 The Straw Breath or “I Let Go”
I started to practice this breathing technique by myself when I felt overwhelmed by stressful situations. I call it the “Straw Breath” because the exhalation is done through the mouth and an imaginary straw.
You can do this breathing when:
– you’re stuck in the traffic on your way to a meeting
– you’re running late and starting to feel stress building up
– you’re preoccupied with some recurring negative and toxic thoughts
– you heard some bad news
– you see an accident on the road and start to panic
– you have fearful feelings, your heart is beating faster and your mind is troubled …
The Straw Breath is an exercise you can practice when you move and walk or you can do it in a seated pose at your desk.
Personally, I practice this technique when I’m in a hurry or late, walking fast or driving.
Even though we usually close our eyes in most breathing exercises, the eyes are open for this breathwork when practiced while driving or walking. I’m sure you get it! 😉
How to practice the Straw Breath
1. Start by taking a deep inhalation
2. Then make a small O shape with your lips, like you would do to whistle and exhale softly, gently and fully through an imaginary straw.
Slowly push the air out through the imaginary straw tube.
3. During the deep inhalations through the nose, your lungs are filled with oxygen, vitality and life force energy. And as you exhale slowly through your puckered lips, let go of the tensions, frustrations, fear, stress…
4. Exhale until you feel you’ve completely emptied your lungs.
Then, let a deep inhalation through the nose naturally fill your lungs with fresh air. Feel your rib cage expanding.
Again, exhale very slowly though your mouth in the imaginary straw.
Exhale fully until you feel there’s no more air to breathe out.
5. When you feel like you’ve emptied your lungs, your body will take another big inhalation through the nose.
The inhalations through the nose are deep and passive, they start naturally and the exhalations through the mouth are active, long and slow.
Do at least 6 to 10 breaths and more if possible.
Repeat the same process as much as needed.
As usual, go at your pace and stay safe when you practice.
Resume this breathing exercise with a few normal natural breaths through the nose.
#3 The Belly’s Breath or “I release and relax”
Practice this breathing exercise in bed, before waking or sleeping if you’re feeling worried or overwhelmed.
It’s also helpful when you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep.
Instead of counting sheep practice this breathing and count your inhalations and exhalations.
This breathing creates a feeling of relaxation.
I guide my students to do this relaxing breath during my gentle restorative yoga sessions.
Belly’s breath, also called abdominal breathing or diaphragm breathing, can be practice in seated position or lying down.
You can sit in crossed legs pose (or Sukhasana) on a cushion or your yoga mat, sit on a chair with your feet on the floor or lie down on your yoga mat or your bed (my preferred place for this pranayama), in Shavasana, the final resting yoga pose or relaxation pose.
You can also practice this breathing while waiting for an interview or during an exam (with your eyes open).
As you’re breathing gently and softly through the nose, no one will notice your doing some breathwork and it will help you feel relax, grounded and focused.
How to practice the Belly’s Breath or abdominal breathing
1. Sit or lie down. Place your hands on your lower belly. Close your eyes.
2. Start by taking a few natural breaths.
3. Now, instead of breathing with your chest (what we usually do when we’re awake), breathe with your belly. Your lungs aren’t in your belly but as you inhale, your diaphragm muscle contracts and the belly expand.
4. On your next inhalation, breathe into the low abdomen.
You should feel your hand moving up gently with the inhalation and moving down gently with the exhalation.
5. Mentally count your inhalation and exhalation and start to match your inhalation with your exhalation. Adjust to whichever is shorter.
6. As you settle in this exercise, breathe as slowly and softly as possible and start to lengthen the breath. Let the air come in and out of your nose as softly and slowly as possible.
7. Breathe evenly. Continue to mentally count your breath, matching your inhalation to your exhalation so that they have the same length.
Then add one more count to each inhale and exhale to extend the breath until you feel you can’t go any further without staying comfortable.
8. Your belly is completely relaxed and your hands are relaxed on your belly. Both inhalation and exhalation are voluntary. You’re consciously inhaling and exhaling in a gentle, soft, slow way and lengthening the breath.
The breath is becoming light, long and subtle as it moves, slowly and gently the nose and it’s nearly imperceptible.
Take 10 to 20 breaths until you feel your body is getting a sense of calmness and peacefulness.
When you feel like completing the exercise, take a few normal natural breaths through the nose and get back to your normal breathing. 😊
Repeat as needed.
These 3 breathing techniques are simple and effective tools to relieve stress and anxiety. My clients have good results with them. 😉
What’s awesome about conscious or voluntary breathing is that you don’t have to go to the hardware store to buy some equipment. You carry your breath with you all the time. It’s accessible whenever you need it.
The gear you need to practice voluntary breathing is built in your body. It’s your respiratory system and it’s comprise of your lungs, diaphragm muscle, nose and mouth.
So, make the best use of your breath for your health and wellness.
To manage stress and anxiety, start to be aware of your breath when you feel stressed or emotional.
Then gently apply one of the breathing techniques mentioned above.
Do not feel overwhelmed by all the info. Simply pick one breath and give it a try! 😊
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If you wish to relearn to breathe in an optimal way to feel calmer, safer, more relaxed, focused and peaceful you can get in touch with me here.
I can help you create a personalized breathing practice for your needs.
I do one-to-one session and breathing classes online + workshops for companies.
Now, make the most out of your breath!
Tell me which one of these breathing exercises you’d like to try?
Do you already use a breathing exercise to relieve stress and anxiety?
Please share it with me, I’m always willing to add simple and practical tools to my Feel-Good Toolbox. 🙏