Four Breathing Exercises to Calm Your Body and Mind
Looking for new ways to bring some calm into your day? In need of some tools for your wellbeing toolbox? Try these simple breathing exercises to soothe your body and mind.
When was the last time you took a deep breath? Whilst our bodies know how to breathe to keep us alive, we can train ourselves to breathe better to feel better! As we breathe, we bring vital oxygen into our body, and as we exhale, we release carbon dioxide, a waste product. But, by learning different breathing techniques, we can utilise our breath to calm our body down and feel more relaxed.
How Does Breathing Help?
Take a breath! Where did you notice it? If it was in your chest, these are the kinds of breaths that send a signal to our brain that activates the sympathetic nervous system, which puts us on high alert and floods our body with stress hormones. So, for example, when we feel overwhelmed, we often breathe short, shallow breaths in our chest, which actually makes us feel more uneasy and short of breath. But by learning to breathe deep into the diaphragm (the space below our rib cage), we can activate our vagus nerve, which stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for your rest and digest response and the one that works to calm our body down.
So, if you’re finding it hard to take a deep breath, to calm down, or want to calm that mental chatter and soothe your body, here are four breath practices to, well, practice!
“Every emotion is connected with the breath. If you change the breath, change the rhythm, you can change the emotion”
- Sri Sri Rabi Shankar
Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodana)
This breath practice is a great way to calm the body and the mind. As you focus on the movements of your fingers and tune into your breathing, notice as your mental chatter starts to subside.
- Sit in a comfortable position.
- Bring your right hand to your face and place your thumb on your right nostril and your ring finger on your left nostril.
- Close your eyes and take a deep breath in and out.
- Now, breathe in whilst closing your right nostril with your thumb but leaving your left nostril open.
- Close the left nostril with your ring finger so both nostrils are closed.
- Open your right nostril and exhale whilst closing your left nostril with your ring finger.
- Inhale through your right nostril.
Why not use a pulse point roller ball on your wrist so you can breathe in some soothing essential oils at the same time?
Cooling Breath (Sitali)
Feeling hot and bothered? Late for a meeting? Stuck in traffic? Try this soothing and cooling breath for an instant chill out!
- Create a straw with your tongue. If you can’t (it’s a genetic thing), don’t worry; just make a round shape with your lips.
- Take a breath by drawing the air in through your tongue - it will sound like you’re drinking through a straw.
- Press your tongue to the roof of your mouth and breathe out slowly and fully through your nose.
- Notice the cooling sensation in your mouth, head and your body.
It’s perfect during the hot weather, too! A great way to find focus, cool down, and chill out!
Humming Bee Breath (Brahmari Breath)
This is a great deep breathing exercise for sleep or to unwind and to calm the nervous system down by tapping into our parasympathetic nervous system. It also helps quiet mental chatter, so it’s great if you find meditation hard.
- Sit in a comfortable seated position.
- You can practice with your hands placed over your heart or chest, or, if you want to try the traditional method, you can practice with thumbs in your ears.
- Relax your jaw whilst keeping your mouth closed and your teeth slightly parted.
- Inhale through your nose.
- As you exhale, make a humming sound through your throat.
- Continue for at least six rounds.
Take a moment after to notice any soothing effects this breath practice may have had.
Ocean Breath (Ujjayi Breath)
One of the more common forms of breathing practice in yoga is the ujjayi breath, also known as the ocean or the victorious breath. It’s a simple relaxation technique to help calm your mind. It is a deep diaphragmatic breathing exercise that switches your body from the fight or flight response (sympathetic nervous system) into the rest and digest response (parasympathetic nervous system).
- Sit in a comfortable position.
- Keep your mouth closed and inhale deeply, expanding the chest, belly and ribs.
- As you exhale, imagine you’re misting up a mirror - you’ll feel a gentle restriction in the back of the throat.
- As you inhale, bring that same restriction in the throat and repeat on both the inhale and exhale.
- You’ll notice that the breath sounds like a wave - one continuous motion.
This is another great practice for moments of overwhelm, feelings of panic and anxiety and for difficulty in getting to sleep.
As they say, practice makes progress! Try these breathing exercises to help you unwind, and welcome the calm.