Did you know that one of the best relaxation methods known to man is entirely free and doesn’t require investing a chunk of your paycheck in fancy-schmancy spa treatments? So, if you are overworked, sleep-deprived, and stressed out – all you need is a pair of healthy lungs, your breath, and 10 minutes of “me” time.
It’s called controlled breathing.
Controlled breathing exercises can help keep your mind and body in shape, by helping to lower blood pressure, promote feelings of calm and relaxation, and relieve stress. While the long-term benefits of breathing exercises haven’t been studied at length (at least in a controlled clinical setting), many experts encourage using the breath as a means of increasing awareness, mindfulness and putting yourself on the path to Zen.
Ready to harness the power of your inhales and exhales? We present you, expert-approved ways to relax using controlled breathing exercises borrowed from centuries-old yoga and meditation traditions.
“Equal Breathing” or Sama Vritti
How to do it: We begin by sitting or lying down in a comfortable position. Your eyes can be open or closed. Inhale for 4 counts, and then exhale for 4 counts.
Take note, all inhalations and exhalations should be made through your nose, which adds a slight, natural resistance to your breath. Once you get these basics down, try 6–8 counts per breath.
Similar to counting sheep, this breathing exercise is especially effective before bed. This breathing technique can help take your mind off the racing thoughts or whatever might be distracting you.
Abdominal breathing technique
According to breathing experts, taking 6-10 deep, slow breaths per minutes for 10 minutes each day using this breathing technique can help reduce one’s heart rate and blood pressure. This abdominal breathing technique can be really helpful before experiencing a particularly stressful event like taking an exam or giving a big presentation.
How to do it: Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Take a deep breath in through your nose, allowing diaphragm (not your chest) to inflate with enough air to create a slight stretching sensation in your lungs. Slowly exhale. First-timers who operate in a stressed state all the time might be a little shocked by how hard it is to control breathing. So, if the pacing doesn’t come naturally to you at first, don’t sweat it.
Keep doing the same routine for 6 to 8 weeks, and you will soon realise the benefits might stick around even longer. Just keep practising!
Progressive muscle relaxation
How to do it: Close your eyes and focus on tensing and relaxing each muscle group for 2 to 3 seconds. Start with your feet and toes, and then move up to your knees, thighs, glutes, chest, arms, hands, neck, jaw, and eyes. Maintain deep, slow breaths the entire time.
The progressive muscle relaxation method works best when you’re in your office chair, at home, or even in your car. By intentionally tensing and then relaxing each muscle group one at a time, you can nix excess tension from head to toe.
We suggest inhaling through your nose, holding for 5 counts while tensing your muscles, and then exhaling through your mouth as you release those muscles. If holding your breath ever feels uncomfortable, tone it down to just a few seconds.
“Alternate Nostril Breathing” or Nadi Shodhana
Just like a cup of coffee, alternate nostril breathing helps you refocus and re-energize. It can also help and make you feel more awake and alert. So, if you are experiencing major deadline pressure at work, try this out.
How to do it: Start by sitting in a comfortable meditative pose. Hold out your dominant hand and press the tips of your pointer and middle fingers into your palm, leaving your ring finger, pinky finger, and thumb extended.
Bring your hand up in front of your face and press your thumb on the outside of one nostril. Inhale deeply through your open nostril. At the peak of your inhalation, release your thumb, press your ring finger on the outside of your other nostril, and exhale.
Continue this routine for 1 – 2 minutes before switching sides so that you inhale through the nostril that you originally used to exhale, and vice versa. Spend equal amounts of time inhaling and exhaling through both nostrils.
“Relaxing breath” or 4-7-8 Breathing
This breathing exercise has roots in yoga’s pranayama, which is all about helping you learn how to gain control over your breath. This is an alternative to equal breathing that can also help you fall asleep faster.
How to do it: Begin by sitting or lying down in a comfortable position. Your eyes can be open or closed. Press the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth, slightly open your mouth, and exhale until you reach the bottom of your breath.
Close your mouth and quietly inhale through your nose for 4 counts. Then hold your breath for 7 counts. Finally, exhale very slowly so that it takes a total of 8 counts to return to the bottom of your breath.
Repeat for 4 full breaths, and work your way up to 8 breaths over time.
“Skull-Shining Breath” or Kapalabhati
If alternate nostril breathing is like a cup of coffee, then Kapalabhati breathing is like your shot of espresso! Whilst the technique is pretty abdominal-intensive, it warms up the body, shakes off stale energy, and wakes up the brain.
How to do it: Begin sitting in an upright position with good posture and your hands on your knees. Take a long, slow inhale through your nose. Then exhale powerfully (also through your nose) by contracting your lower belly.
Your body will naturally inhale again, so focus mainly on your forceful exhales as you continue this fiery breathing technique. Once you’re comfortable with the abdominal contraction component, increase your pace to 1 inhale-exhale every 2 seconds for a total of 10 breaths.
Believe it or not, breathing is one of our best defences against daily stress, frustration, and existential angst. Once we learn the art of inhaling and exhaling, we are likely to start feeling better. Resilience and grace come after naturally to you thereafter.
Now, just breathe in and breathe out….