5 breathing exercises to get you through the chaos

The end of the year is screaming towards us. The last 2 pandemic-fuelled years seem to have passed in the blink of an eye, but the stress that has compounded over this period is very real. Add to that the general mayhem of the December period with school holidays, work deadlines and looming family gatherings (which no one can quite tell you are definitely on or definitely off… thanks again, Covid).

We could all use a little help, that’s why our head of Yoga, Joëlle Sleebos has prepared 5 breathing exercises that teach you how to observe your breath, gain better control over it and make it a daily part of your feel-good routine.

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#1 – Mindful breathing

This type of exercise doesn’t involve manipulating your breath at all. It is simply about being aware of its natural rhythm and deepening it through gentle focus.

Begin by breathing normally and then tune into a physical cue such as the rise and fall of your chest or the feeling of the air through your nostrils. Your mind will wander naturally, but as soon as it does, refocus on your cue and continue to be as mindful of the rhythm as you can to heighten your awareness, eliminate distractions and quiet a racing mind.

#2 – Equal breathing

This type of breathing stems from the ancient practice of Pranayama Yoga. Essentially all you are doing is inhaling for the same amount of time that you’re exhaling. Making your breath smooth and steady can help bring about balance and serenity.

- Sit comfortably on a cushion or a chair, making sure your spine is neutral.

- Take a few natural breaths to centre yourself.

- Slowly count 1-2-3-4 as you inhale through your nose.

- Then exhale for the same 4 second count. You can exhale out of your nose or mouth.

- As you inhale and exhale be aware of the feelings of fullness and emptiness in your lungs.

#3 – Purse lipped breathing

This simple breathing technique helps you slow down the pace of your breathing by applying a deliberate effort in each breath.

- Sit comfortably on a cushion or a chair, making sure your spine is neutral.

- Take a few natural breaths to centre yourself.

- Keeping your mouth closed, inhale slowly through your nose for 2 counts.

- Purse your lips as though you were going to whistle.

- Exhale slowly by blowing air through your pursed lips for a count of 4.

#4 – Alternate nostril breathing

Alternate nostril breathing, known as Nadi Shodhana Pranayama in Sanskrit, is a breathing practice for relaxation and balance, and has also has been shown to enhance cardiovascular function and to lower heart rate. It cultivates balance between the right and left sides of your brain.

- Sit comfortably on a cushion or a chair, making sure your spine is neutral.

- Take a few natural breaths to centre yourself.

- Lift up your right hand toward your nose, pressing your first and middle fingers down toward your palm and leaving your other fingers extended.

- After an exhale, use your right thumb to gently close your right nostril.

- Inhale through your left nostril and then close your left nostril with your right pinkie and ring fingers.

- Release your thumb and exhale out through your right nostril.

- Inhale through your right nostril and then close this nostril.

- Release your fingers to open your left nostril and exhale through this side.

- This is one cycle. Continue this breathing pattern for up to 5 minutes.

- Finish your session with an exhale on the left side.

#5 – Sitali breathing

This Yoga-inspired breathing practice helps you lower your body temperature and calm your mind.

- Sit comfortably on a cushion or a chair, making sure your spine is neutral.

- Take a few natural breaths to centre yourself.

- Then, curling your tongue and extending it out a little, inhale through the tunnel of the tongue.

- Release the tongue, close the mouth and exhale out through the nose.

- Continue breathing like this for up to 5 minutes.

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All 5 are simple and easy to do from anywhere. So, the next time you find yourself feeling anxious or overwhelmed, close your eyes and take a deep breath.

Photo by Masaaki Komori on Unsplash

Published on December 10, 2021