Breathe to Relieve Stress

Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor. -Thích Nhất Hạnh

Stress is a modern epidemic that has become the root of many diseases in the body. The good news is that we can makes lifestyle changes to help our body become better equipped for dealing with stress. Stress isn’t going anywhere and resisting it isn’t helping either. Why not instead, help your body transform it from the inside out? Today, I’ll share a few different techniques for you to try, so you can find one that works for you.

Essentially, pranayama (breathing) practices work on the “vital energy body” (pranamaya kosha). These simple practices energize and balance different pranas, or energy pathways, within the body and mind. These three breathing techniques specifically are a great way to calm the nervous system and take you from flight, fight, freeze (sympathetic nervous system) to rest and restore (parasympathetic nervous system). Even practicing for only a few minutes a day can be beneficial for reducing stress. So, here they are:

1. Ujjayi Pranayama

Sit comfortably, close your eyes and begin to bring awareness to the breath. First notice the breath moving in and out of the nostrils, then after a few minutes bring awareness to the throat. Imagine and feel the breath being drawn in and out through the throat. The breath will naturally become rhythmic and calm. Partially close the glottis at the back of the throat to produce a slight sound and continue taking deep breaths. The sound should only be audible to you.

Ujjayi has the ability to heat the body, soothe the nervous system and calm the mind. It can also slow the heart rate or relieve insomnia. The audible sound that comes with ujjayi breath can give you something to further focus on as you breathe.

2. Anulom Vilom Pranayama (or alternate nostril breathing)

Sit comfortably in a meditative position and close the eyes. Bring the right hand in front of the face and rest the index and middle fingers on your eyebrow center. Place the thumb close to the right nostril and the ring finger close to the left nostril. If you are left handed, bring the left hand to the face and place the thumb close to the left nostril and the ring finger close to the right nostril. Gently close the right nostril with your thumb (or ring finger) and inhale slowly through the left nostril. After a deep inhalation, close the left nostril with your ring finger (or thumb) and release the thumb from the right nostril. Exhale slowly through the right nostril and inhale slowly through the right nostril. Close the right nostril with the thumb, release the ring finger from the left nostril and exhale gently through the left nostril. This completes one round. Continue this alternate nostril breathing pattern without strain. Bring awareness to equal inhalation and exhalation.

Do not practice when nasal passages are blocked for any reason. Alternate nostril breathing balances the breath and the activity of the two brain hemispheres. It’s calming and benefits people suffering from stress related disorders. When practiced for an extended period, it can help people with respiratory conditions. It has also been shown to have a powerful impact on hormone regulation.

3. Bhramari Pranayama ( or humming bee breath)

Sit comfortably, close the eyes and relax the whole body. Keep the lips closed and the teeth slightly separated throughout the practice. Gently bend the elbows and bring the hands to the ears. Use the index or middle finger to plug the ears or press into the flaps of the ears to avoid inserting the fingers. Bring your awareness to the space between the eyebrows. Inhale through the nose and exhale slowly while making a deep, steady humming sound like a bee. The humming should be smooth, even and continuous for the duration of the exhalation. You will feel a gentle vibration with the sound. Release the hands during the inhalation or keep them in place on the ears throughout the practice.

Bhramari relieves stress, anxiety and insomnia. It boosts the body’s self-healing capacity and improves the voice. It also induces a meditative state by harmonizing the mind and directing awareness inward. The vibration and the sound of humming soothes the mind and the nervous system.

I challenge you to commit to doing one of these 5 days in a row for 5 minutes a day and see if you notice a difference in your stress level! Let me know how it goes.

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