When it comes to coping with stress overload, your breath is one of the best remedies there is—and it’s free!
Most of us experience depression, anxiety, fear at some point in our lives, and we all know what it’s like to be exhausted. Exercise, meditation, medicine, and even a long vacation in Hawaii are all options for dealing with these emotions. However, you may not realise that you already have a safe, efficient, and affordable treatment for each of these ailments. What exactly that is?
What is Pranayama?
Pranayama is the practice of breath regulation. Pranayama research is showing benefits in these areas:
- Reduced anxiety and depression
- Lower/stabilised blood pressure
- Increased energy levels
- Improved immunity
- Decreased feelings of stress and overwhelm
- Reduction in PTSD symptoms
It’s a main component of Kundalini Yoga, an exercise for physical and mental wellness. Prana means life energy and yama means control. The practice of pranayama involves breathing exercises and patterns. You purposely inhale, exhale, and hold your breath in a specific sequence.
Pranayama’s goal isn’t just to exercise the lungs or bring in more oxygen, which is only the first step. It is to calm and develop our prana, and to connect our outer prana, which is closely linked to breathing, with our inner Prana, which is ultimately the energy of our higher awareness, our inner soul or higher self.
We build our connection with our inner Prana and soul as we quiet and deepen our breath via Pranayama. Kundalini Yoga teaches us how to balance and unite our body ’s energies, which are normally scattered by diverse currents of thought, emotion, and sensation, and how to gather them for a greater body ’s energy force linked to a higher consciousness.
Breathe In – Breathe Out
Pranayama for managing anxiety
Take a deep breath. No, really. Connect to your inner calm with these powerful anxiety-banishing breathing exercises.
~ Bria Tavakoli
Anxiety can wreak havoc on your emotions and your health. Pranayama can help you in this aspect.
How you practice pranayama to deal with your anxiety?
You can reduce anxiety by concentrating on your exhalations and progressively extending them. For example, if you normally exhale for six counts, lengthen each one to seven for a few breathing cycles, then to eight for a few cycles, and so on, until you discover a length that works for you.
Turn part of your focus to the faint sound of your exhalations once you’ve comfortably increased the length of your exhalations by a few counts. You’ll note that they all produce a quiet “ha” sound, similar to a delicate sigh. From start to finish, try to make this sound—and your exhalations—as quiet and even as possible. At the conclusion of each exhale, take a little pause, resting peacefully in the stillness. Continuing like this, watch your breath as steadily as you can for 7 to 31 minutes.
Pranayama for managing stress
If there’s one thing most of us have in common, it’s stress. When you breathe deeply, your brain receives more oxygen and stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, which is calming. Your brain then sends this calming message into your body. Certain types of breathing and breathing exercises are better for stress than others, but “most breathing techniques are effective in just a few minutes,” Taylor explains. So, the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, try one of the following breathing exercises for stress. Here are some techniques of pranayama for resolving stress:
- Belly breathing
Also known as abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing, this technique can be used for a single breath or longer. Simply inhale, inflating your belly as you focus on your lower abdomen, before allowing the breath to fill your chest. Then exhale, relaxing your belly completely and continue.
When: This can be used to help you keep calm in a stressful situation, when you’re tired or stressed, your breathing becomes shallower, making it difficult to relax. Breathing into your lower abdomen helps to deepen your breath and move your attention downward, which is calming and grounding.
- Breath counting
All this basic breathing exercise requires is for you to breathe and count. Focus on taking in deep, full breaths, filling your lungs completely on your inhale, then expelling all of the air out of your lungs on your exhale. After each full round of breath—an inhale and exhale—you count a breath. You can count up to or down from 20, 50, 100 or whatever number you like.
When: Beyond a breathing exercise for stress, breath counting is great for harnessing focus. Whether you’re sitting down to take a test or approaching a starting line, a racing mind can derail your ambitions. Breath counting is a great way to regain focus. If you lose track of the number you were on, that tells you that you need to bring your attention back to your breath and away from whatever was stealing it, and start counting from one.
- Progressive relaxation
Start by getting in a comfortable seated position, close your eyes, and take in several deep, full breaths through your nose. Then bring attention to your feet, and as you continue to breathe deeply, begin to tense the muscles in your feet. Hold the tension for an inhale, then release on the exhale, imagining stress and anxiety leaving your body. Continue like this, gradually working up to your head and face.
When: This is a great exercise to implement while sitting at your desk at work or even during TV commercial breaks at night. If you need to physically work out some extra energy or anxiety, adding a physical component like progressive relaxation can really help.
- Balancing breath
This balancing exercise, also known as alternate nostril breathing, involves five rounds of breathing. Cover one nostril with your thumb as you slowly inhale through your other nostril, then close your other nostril with one of your free fingers and pause before removing your thumb and slowly exhaling through that side. Keeping your finger-side nostril closed, inhale through the thumb-side nostril, close the thumb-side nostril and pause before opening your finger-side nostril and exhaling to complete a round.
When: This is all about steadying yourself for a task. It’s very calming and a great way to start the day or before a yoga class or workout.
- Matching breath
Set aside 2–5 minutes in a quiet place. Begin by inhaling as you count in your head 1-2-3-4, then exhale as you count 1-2-3-4. Keep slowing it down, and see if you can lengthen your count to 5, 6, or more.
When: Use this to help you focus and relax. It also comes in handy during workouts. Whether it’s downtime between hill repeats or a few moments of quiet before the rest of the house wakes up in the morning, try the matching breath technique to calm the body and mind.
Pranayama for managing depression
Working with depression is more challenging than working with anxiety. As a result, while you’re feeling down, be cautious about how you use the breathing treatment. Forcing your breath might immediately worsen your bad mood.
Begin by getting into a comfortable posture and letting your normal breathing to slow down and smooth out, as with any breathwork. Then count how long your following inhalation lasts. Match the length of your exhale to the length of your inhalation.
Continue inhaling and exhaling in this manner for about a minute, balancing the lengths of the inhalations and exhalations. Then, for every three or four cycles, progressively add another count to each inhale and exhalation until you reach a comfortable number. This is referred to as equal ratio breathing by yogis.
When: It comes to depression, the impact of breathing on your mood is the greatest measure of how long you should keep doing it. Begin with a specific time goal in mind—say, 10 minutes—but be prepared to reduce it by a few minutes when your melancholy lifts. On the other side, if you feel the urge, you can carry on past your objective for a few minutes.
Identifying your personal pranayama practice
Observing and extending your breath for many minutes may sometimes have a surprise good effect on your energy level or attitude. Using pranayama—breathing techniques targeted to affect certain moods and conditions—you may enhance this impact substantially.
Before you begin, keep in mind that you should never, ever overdo any breathing exercise. If you start to feel uneasy, return to your regular breathing. Never push your breath to perform a task it doesn’t want to.
When: Your breath tells you to stop, how will you know? This is your indication to stop if the negative sensations you started with get significantly worse. Your breath, believe it or not, has an intrinsic intelligence that has evolved over millions of years. Your intuition will help you if trust it.
Pranayama is traditionally performed while sitting on the ground with the spine long and upright. However, those of us who aren’t used to sitting in this posture for long periods of time typically find themselves hurting and squirming after only a short time, interfering with our focus and the effectiveness of the breathing cure. If this is the case for you, sit in a chair or, better still, try lying on your back on the floor.
If your floor isn’t carpeted, use a folded blanket to cushion it and a small, firm pillow to support your neck and head. Lie on your back with your legs straight and your heels a few inches apart, or bend your knees over a yoga bolster or hard cushion to assist relieve a tight back and calm a tense stomach. Close your eyes and spread your arms out to the sides on the floor, inclined at roughly 45 degrees to your body. Using an eye cushion to cover the eyes is very beneficial.
When you’re comfortable, start paying attention to your regular breathing for a few minutes, keeping it at the forefront of your mind. Then, for another minute or so, mentally count the lengths of your inhalations and exhalations, for example, “one Sat Nam, two Sat Nam, three Sat Nam, and so on” (or “One Om, two Om, three Om,” if you prefer). It’s quite normal for your exhalations to be somewhat longer than your inhalations. You’re ready to attempt one of the particular exercises above to combat anxiety, tiredness, or sadness once you’ve relaxed into your breath.
Breathe In – Breathe Out