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Worry and anxiety are like parasites that can creep into every corner of consciousness. However, it is possible to experience precious moments of stillness between all the senseless noise and rambling thoughts. Incorporating simple breathing exercises into your daily life helps release mental chatter and reduces stress.
The function of breathing is unique. It is different from all other autonomic functions because breathing can switch from an automatic response to a voluntary action. Anyone can choose to breathe consciously. In addition, the pace of breathing can be altered through choice. By choosing to breathe slower and more deeply, a deep relaxation response is triggered.
Focusing on the breath is a simple mind/body skill. Once learned, it becomes easier to practice more advanced meditation techniques. Below are five simple exercises for getting started.
Focus on breath
Sit comfortably in a chair. Focus your attention on your breath. How are you breathing? Are you breathing through the nose or mouth? Is your breath shallow or deep? Does your chest expand as you inhale? Does your belly expand?
Anytime you engage in abdominal breathing, you shift into deeper and slower breathing. To initiate abdominal breathing first inhale through the mouth or nose and then exhale completely through the mouth fully releasing any stale air from your lungs. If you desire, push all remaining air out with an audible sigh. Then continue breathing through your nose. As you inhale, notice your belly expanding. Then exhale fully, releasing all air. You can also rest your hands on top of your belly, feeling your belly rise and fall in rhythm with the breath.
As you breathe in, start counting slowly for four counts. Notice the breath start at your nose and watch your chest begin to expand as your lungs fill. Once your chest is full, notice how your belly begins to accept the breath. By the final count, your chest and belly should be completely full of breath.
Exhale for four counts as well. As you exhale, notice the breath leaving your belly and your chest until you feel completely empty of air. Both the inhale and exhale should be for equal amounts of time.
Repeat this exercise, increasing the count by one. Do this repeatedly, until you have reached eight counts.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
This is a simple yoga breathing exercise that can be done virtually anywhere, anyplace. This exercise is intended to detoxify and rejuvenate your vital channels of energy. It also balances the left and right brain hemispheres and has a calming effect on the mind.
- Assume a sitting position with your spine straight.
- Raise your right hand and rest your middle finger and forefinger directly above the center of your eyebrows, where your brow chakra is located.
- Use your thumb to close off your right nostril and inhale through your left nostril. Close your left nostril with your ring finger and immediately release your thumb allowing your right nostril to be open. Exhale through your right nostril. Then breathe back in again through your right nostril. Close your right nostril with your thumb, release your ring finger from your left nostril and exhale through the left nostril. This completes one round.
- Start by doing a couple rounds and gradually build until you can do this continually for five to ten minutes.
Before beginning to count down with each breath, begin by taking one or two deep breaths. Release a heavy sigh as you exhale to get rid of any stale air. Then, begin by inhaling through your nose, expanding your chest and belly with air. Release all tension as you exhale. Visualize all stress melting away. Feel a wave of relaxation throughout your body, from the crown of your head to the soles of your feet. As you breathe out, silently say ten. Repeat the process, counting down all the way to one. You may feel so relaxed that you fall asleep. That is okay.
Intentional Breathing while Reading
Another simple and yet effective breathing technique is to focus on your breath while you are reading. As you read words, sentences and paragraphs become aware of your breathing. Notice what it is like to be aware of your own self while simultaneously being aware of the content you are reading. This is an effective way to switch breathing from an automatic response to a conscious intention.
There are endless resources available for breathing exercises to release anxiety, clear your mind and improve your health. Once you have become skilled at these techniques there are more advanced practices that can also be explored. Any and all of these simple techniques will undoubtedly help you breathe easier in life!