Did you know that God created our bodies with an internal “brake system?” When our nervous system is stuck in overdrive (fight-flight) we have the ability within ourselves to calm our bodies. How, might you ask? Deep breathing! Intentional breathing is one of the fastest (and easiest) ways to calm your body and mind. This exercise not only increases oxygen to our brains but also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation response). Deep breathing regulates our heart rate and sends signals to the brain to release endorphins. So next time you’re feeling stressed or a little anxious, try one of these 7 breathing exercises.
Simple prayers work best with prayerful breathing so that it can coordinate with your breath. The prayer can be as simple as one word. An example might look like closing your eyes if that is comfortable to you and inhale “Holy Spirit,” exhale “Me” / Inhale “Peace” Exhale “Stress” / Inhale “Calm” Exhale “Anxiety” / Inhale “Balance” Exhale “Chaos”
At the base of your rib cage lies your diaphragm muscle. When you inhale, it contracts and flattens, and when you exhale the muscle relaxes. Try laying down on your back with one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Breathing in through your nose, imagine that breath flowing to the bottom of your lungs as if you were filling a balloon from the bottom up. The hand on your abdomen should move while the hand on your chest stays relatively still. Try making your exhale longer than your inhale.
4-6-8 breathing naturally relaxes the nervous system by using a longer exhale to engage the parasympathetic nervous system. Breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 6 counts, exhale for 8 counts. It’s also a great way to relieve tension in the chest.
This technique allows you to slow your breath and be more intentional. Breath in and as you exhale, purse your lips as if you were blowing out candles and exhale slowly and steadily.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
ANB is often done as part of a yoga practice and is beneficial for calming the mind. In a comfortable position, place your pointer and middle fingers on your forehead, then use your thumb and ring finger to alternate closing off left and right nostrils. You may inhale on one side, close it off and then exhale on the opposite side, OR you can inhale and exhale on one side before closing off and moving to the other side.
Box breathing or 4 square breathing provides a distraction while you are counting and calms the nervous system by decreasing stress levels in the body. To do this exercise, inhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts and hold for 4 counts.
Lions breath relieves tension in your face, jaw and neck while decreasing stress. If nothing else, it will make you giggle! To practice, sit in a comfortable position (making sure you’re sitting up nice and tall), bring your hands up and spread your fingers wide. Inhale and as you exhale making a forceful “ha” sound, open your mouth wide and stick out your tongue.
It is important to listen to your body. If you have a medical condition that may prevent you from breathing well, please contact your medical provider. If you are able to, practice breathing techniques both when you are feeling stressed AND as a proactive measure. If you continue to experience stress and anxiety, consider reaching out to speak with a counselor.