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Breathing Techniques & Exercises: For Stress and Anxiety

Woman Breathing DeeplyOxygen plays an important part in the well-being of our bodies. As we inhale, air rich with oxygen rushes into our lungs and the oxygen is transferred into the blood stream. It feeds the cells and enables them to function properly. An exchange is happening in the cellular level, when toxins and poisonous waste products get into the blood stream and with it to the lungs to be exchanged again.

During stressful situations we hardly ever stop to think about our breathing, the pressure of the moment being too intense. Adrenaline pumps into the blood, making the heart beat faster, the perspiration increases, the muscle tense and breathing becomes quicker and shallower depriving our body and brain from receiving the full amount of oxygen they need.

Stressful situation can be handled better if we learn proper breathing techniques and pay attention to this involuntary function every being shares.

Pranayama is one of the 5 principals of yoga and means the control of life and energy. Yoga uses breathing to change subtle energy within the body for health and well-being. From ancient techniques to modern research, it has been proven time and again that controlling our breathing helps overcome anxiety and stress, helps control our emotions and calms our nerves.

“Practicing regular, mindful breathing can be calming and energizing and can even help with stress-related health problems ranging from panic attacks to digestive disorders” writes the well-known Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D.

Breathing Techniques

The 4-7-8 Exercise

This exercise is meant to relax you and sooth the soul. Unlike tranquilizing drugs, it has no side effects and can be done anywhere, anytime. Lying down or sitting up in a quiet room or a noisy bus – you’ll always have it with you to use when you feel stressed.

  1. Position your body as relaxed as you can, close your eyes and exhale through your mouth with an audible sound. Empty your lungs as much as you can.
  2. Inhale through your nose to the count of 4, filling your chest.
  3. Hold the breath in for 7 counts.
  4. Exhale slowly to the count of 8.

This is one cycle. Do it no more than 4 times as you start up. Try to slow down the count as much as you are comfortable with and you’ll find out you can do it longer.
You can’t do it too frequently and it increases in power with practice and time. You can use it to fall asleep.

Breath Counting

Have difficulties falling asleep? Try this technique used in the Zen practice.

  1. Be in a comfortable position, preferably on your back with your hands crossed across your chest. Breath normally.
  2. Exhale, and count 1. This is the length of your first breath.
  3. When you exhale again, do is slower to the count of 2.
  4. Do it up to the count of 5, if you can. Smooth long exhale.
  5. Start the cycle again.

You will be very busy counting, which would prevent you from thinking about other things.

Stimulating Breath

This technique aims to raise energy levels and increase alertness. This is a bit noisy exercise.

  1. Inhale and exhale quickly through your nose. Keep your mouth closed. Start by doing it 3 times in a second. This should move your diaphragm rapidly.
  2. Breath normally after each cycle.
  3. Do it for short periods, about 15 seconds. You can increase the cycles by 5 seconds at a time until you reach a full minute.

This exercise pumps oxygen into your body and when done properly will make you feel invigorated, like after a good workout. It is worth a try for the 2:00 pm slump at work.

The Sigh

If you are yawning a lot during the day, it is a sign that your body craves oxygen. As a result, your muscles get tense and all you want to do is slump down. This exercise aims to release tension and get more oxygen in. Some call it “The Jewish Mother” breathing technique.

  1. Sit in a comfortable pose, with shoulders pulled back, so your lungs have room to expand.
  2. Exhale a long and heartfelt sigh, encompassing all the sorrow of the world. If you think of yourself, the Jewish mothers say, it means you are selfish, so sigh for the misery of others, less fortunate than you. You will get rid of all the bad air in your lungs and self-pity in your head. You can add a syllable if you like.
  3. Let you lungs fill with air. The more you sigh out the more new air you’ll take in.
  4. Repeat between 5 and 8 times.

Done properly it should invigorate you and put things in prospective.

Suggestive Breathing

This technique combines relaxation with breathing exercise and the beneficial effect of auto-suggestions.

  1. Lie down in a comfortable position. Relax your muscles and let them sink into the bed/mat/floor. Place your hands on your diaphragm, under your rib cage. Elbows should be beside you touching the bottom surface, so if the hands don’t meet it is ok.
  2. Breath in through your nose, counting slowly and continually until you feel your hands move.
  3. Aim your breathing towards the lower part of your lungs, letting the stomach expend.
  4. Exhale in the same duration. Keep a count until your breathing become even and steady.
  5. Imagine that with every exhale you are sending away toxins. Give them a color or a shape.
  6. Imagine that with every inhale energy is rushing into your lungs and from there to other parts of your body. If you know a bit of anatomy you can map how far each breath is going in your body.

Do it for 5 to 10 minutes a day when you need to refresh your mind and recharge your batteries, or at the end of the day when you want to fall asleep.

Turn one of your involuntary instincts to voluntary and use those techniques to get you to where you want to be without the aid of artificial medications, which always have some side effects.

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