The way we breathe is something easily overlooked and taken for granted, as we can do it unconsciously, without even thinking. In times of uncertainty and turbulence, having a calm mind helps which is where conscious breathing comes in. Through practice, we can learn to regulate our breathing to improve our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
Breathing meditations can be used to become more joyful, less fearful, more balanced, create more clarity and increase our decision making skills. They are the simplest form of meditation and can be done each day for only a couple of minutes at a time. These breathing patterns can be used beyond traditional meditation and be applied for immediate stress relief. Practicing meditating every day for 5-10 minutes a day is better than doing 45 minutes three times a week.
Soft Belly Breath
Practice in bed in the morning or evening with your knees bent or if sitting in a chair, sit upright so you’re able to support your own spine.
- Place your hands on your belly, thumbs at the navel and fingertips below. Allow the belly to expand under your fingertips on the inhale and to contract on the exhale.
- Envision an ocean wave – the belly expands on the inhale, the wave rises; the navel contracts on the exhale, the wave returns to the ocean.
- If you aren’t getting any movement, press your fingertips gently into your belly so you know it’s contracting on the exhale. Release the press on the inhale.
- As the expansion and contraction becomes more natural, focus on keeping a rhythmic breathing pattern where the inhale and exhale are equal.
- Try to breathe in for the count of seven, and out for seven. Build up to this if need be and repeat.
Soft belly breathing can reduce tension in the neck and shoulders, massage the heart, and activate the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for rest and digest).
Alternate Nostril Breathing
This ancient yogi breathing technique settles the mind and can be performed mentally if you’re suffering from sinus issues. Alternate nostril breathing immediately quiets the mind and can stop an anxiety attack, relieve a headache, calm the emotions and soothe an anger that temporarily takes over. It reconnects the mind to the soul and recharges the spirit and is a great way to deal with stress. You receive seven times more oxygen using this technique than through normal breathing.
During this practice, you’ll use the hand placement as in the picture
- Take your hand and either fold down second and third fingers or place them between your eyebrows. Use the thumb and fourth finger on the flair of your nostril, gently.
- Sit tall, inner rotate your thighs, and return to soft belly and rhythmic breathing.
- Inhale through both nostrils, gently close right nostril, and exhale left.
- Inhale left, gently close, and exhale right. Repeat.
- Gradually allow the exhale to become longer than the inhale. Release on an exhale through the left nostril.
- To continue, keep your eyes softened or closed. Begin to observe parallel paths of light in the midbrain.
- For the next three breaths, pause briefly at the top of the inhale, feeling or visualising more light or vibration. Exhale, release, and surrender, allowing yourself to let go three times. On the third time, imagine taking the light down the spine, to the navel center to create a pool of light – your personal sun. Allow this personal sun to vibrate behind your navel.
- To come back, as you inhale, think the sound “so.” As you exhale, think the sound “hum.” “So” means individual self and “hum” means higher self. Allow the breath to deepen, bringing you back.
- As you get used to this practice, focus on the first five steps until you feel confident, don’t over complicate. Do what feels right for you.
4-7-8 Breathing with Dr Andrew Weill
This is a great tool to use when upsetting things happen for you, you could be aware of tension or are experiencing anxiety. I also find it a fabulous tool to use to get to sleep at night.
- Sit quietly with eyes closed
- Breath in for the count of four through your nose, hold for seven, breath out for eight through your mouth with a whooshing sound
- Repeat four times
Practice this technique every day, it will be a very useful tool that you will always have with you. You can find out more about Dr Weill and a demonstration here.