There’s a reason why someone telling you to “breathe” has become synonymous with the term “relax”. Mindful breathing, whether deep or shallow, can elicit various mental and physical responses, regardless of your starting state, and is a wonder for stress relief. The good news here is that you can promote relaxation in just a few moments and prevent stress from escalating by practising your favourite breathing technique. Breathwork is a simple yet effective strategy for mood regulation and self-soothing during times of distress and emotional flooding.
‘Your breathing is a reflection of what you are feeling and your inner world – by checking in with your breathing regularly, you become more present ‘in’ your body.‘Orlagh Reid
Like all new habits and rituals, they take time to develop before they start to feel natural, practice makes perfect! Mindful breathing throughout the day is an excellent self-care strategy that can help bring the heart rate down, fill the body with oxygen, relax muscle tension, and focus your mind. The more conscious you become of controlled breathing and breathwork, the more unconscious it will become for you.
Breathwork can be used as a simple helpful recovery strategy and tool for managing and overcoming triggers, urges, and overwhelming compulsions. Your breathing is a reflection of what you are feeling and your inner world, by checking in with your breathing regularly, you become more present in your body.
While there are no set rules for calming breathwork, the general advice is to choose a technique that helps you begin to breathe deeply and slowly; here is a couple to help get you started.
Diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing
This simple technique helps you utilise your diaphragm in order to fill your lungs up completely.
- Begin in a comfortable, relaxed position and place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach, below your ribcage.
- Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, aiming only to move your belly hand outward and leave your chest hand as still as possible.
- Then, release the breath slowly through pursed lips as you let your belly hand move inward and your belly tighten.
- Take note of your mental and physical state in between rounds and continue this technique until your stress responses have passed.
- Try practising belly breathing in sets of ten or twenty breaths, then check in with your body after each set.
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Alternate nostril (nose) breathing
This hands-on breathing exercise is great for stressors that make you feel like you need to “do something” about it.
- Begin in a relaxed position and bring one of your hands to your nose. Exhale completely.
- Then pinch only your right nostril closed and inhale through your left nostril.
- Release your right nostril and pinch closed your left nostril, then exhale through your right nostril.
- Keep that positioning and inhale through your right nostril.
- Then, release your left nostril and pinch closed your right nostril. Exhale through your left nostril.
- Repeat until your stress response has calmed.
- This technique requires attention and focus. Try practising nostril breathing for two or three minutes at a time and then rest your arms until the next round.
Breathing techniques like these all work to slow down your body’s stress response and move you back into a more comfortable state of calm. Try these out the next time you have some quiet time or are feeling tense, and see what proper breathwork can really do for that calming mind-body connection.