Stressors are everywhere in today´s busy schedules and everybody experiences stress differently. Some people can simply cope better than others and what might be fine for you could be super stressful for someone else and vice versa. If you are completely overwhelmed with your workload or any other demanding situation, it is often very hard to simply sit back and relax or, for example, meditate. But one simple thing you can always do and which gives immediate relief is breathwork.
Pranayama can help to calm down your nervous system. Practiced regularly, you will be more resilient to stressful situations and furthermore, you will have more mental clarity and focus. The ancient yogic breathwork of pranayama has several, easy to learn breathing techniques for stress relief, which I will introduce in the following.
1. Belly Breathing
Belly breathing is our natural state of breathing. Especially when we are stressed and tense, we do not breath fully into our bellies but we use shoulder breathing. This is a more shallow form of breathing and does not provide the full dose of oxygen in our lungs. Belly breathing can be best performed when laying on your back and putting one or two hands on your belly. Now breath slowly into your belly that your hand is rising and falling when breathing out. Do this for a couple of times a day and especially before going to bed at night. You can also do this on your desk throughout the day while sitting. Just sit up straight, put a hand on your belly and breathe deeply.
2. Ujjayi Breathing
Usually used in yoga while doing asanas, ujjayi makes sure that your breath is calm and steady while doing your postures. Ujjayi is very calming for the mind and heating the body, thus preventing injuries. It helps to slow down and lengthen the breath and keeps you focused. Furthermore, it is very soothing for your nervous system. For ujjayi breath, you inhale through the nose and when exhaling (also through the nose), you kind of make an ocean sound with your larynx. As if you would breath on a mirror or whisper, for example. Ujjayi is the gateway to pranayama and I always start my breathwork sessions with this simple technique in the beginning.
3. Nadi Shodana
Nadi Shodana, or altered nostril breathing, is an amazing technique for balancing your left and right hemisphere. Our two biggest energy pathways or nadis, ida and pingala, are running on either side of our spine and by altering our breathing patterns we can activate and balance them. You start by closing your left nostril with your right hand and inhale through your right nostril for the count of four. Then you close both nostrils and hold the breath for the count of six and exhale through the left nostril for the count of eight. Afterwards you inhale through the left nostril to the count of four, close both nostrils and hold the breath for the count of six and exhale through the right nostril. This is one cycle. Try this for a few minutes every day, preferably in the morning and/or evening.
Brahmari is also called the bumblebee breath. I found it kind of weird in the beginning and experience my pranayama students having the same feeling. It is actually so „simple“ that you may be tricked into thinking it might be completely useless when really it is so powerful. Sit down on a chair or on your meditation cushion, inhale through your nose and when exhaling make a humming sound. Do that for a few minutes. See, easy as cake! Brahmari pranayama is great for calming your whole body and mind and helps you relax after a long and stressful day. It reduces anxiety and depression and trains your voice to prevent hoarseness. Great practice for everybody who is using their voice a lot throughout the day.
5. Sama Vritti
Sama vritti pranayama or square breathing/box breath is a wonderful beginner technique to get in touch with your breath and learn breath retention. You start by inhaling while counting to four and then holding your breath counting to four. Then you exhale to the count of four and hold again while counting to four. Later, when you´re more experienced you can make it up to the count of 15. Sama Vritti activates your parasympathetic nervous system and guides your mind towards calmness. It is an amazing technique, you can do in the evening before going to bed for just a few minutes.
Note: this is how I learned the different breathwork techniques in my pranayama training by my teacher. There are slight changes in techniques depending on the teacher you learn it from.
Feel like you could use some relaxation, and extra oxygen? Get in touch here and breathe with me.