Coping with the demands of everyday life can often make us feel stressed and anxious, pushing us to our limits. However, what many people don’t realise is, we come equipped with an extremely powerful tool that can not only help us to deal with everyday anxiety and stress, but also help us connect to our true selves. The tool I’m talking about is the breath. Yes, our breath, our Prana – Sanskrit for ‘life force’.
Breathing is responsible for so much more than just regulating our oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in our body. Did you know that not breathing correctly can actively lead to symptoms of anxiety, stress and even depression?
What is breathing incorrectly?
Most of our breathing is switched on autopilot and happens subconsciously. Our bodies want deep, diaphragmatic breathing (breaths that use our diaphragms and fill our entire lungs, down to the bellies) but unfortunately many of us spend most of our lives ‘shallow breathing’. This is when most of our breathing happens only in our chest and this habit puts our bodies in a state of stress by disrupting the balance of life force in the body. If our bodies are stressed, guess what happens to our mind and our overall sense of wellbeing? You become more susceptible to stress and anxiety, even manifesting itself into physical pain or panic attacks.
When we are experiencing stress, our breathing changes and becomes shorter and shallower, which in turn feeds the symptoms of anxiety even further. This creates a cyclical pattern where our breathing causes anxiety and this anxiety causes more shallow breathing. Can you see the pattern?
Dan Brule said it best ‘Breath is the link between mind and body.’
To get us out of this anxiety trap, we can take a mindful pause and focus on our breath to start seeing the positive effects it has on our mind, body and overall health. With such a powerful tool at our fingertips, let’s take a moment and really pay attention to just what it can do for us.
Using powerful breathing techniques to heal also known as conscious breathing can have very positive effects on our overall health, both mentally and physically, and helps us stay grounded in the present moment. Allow yourself a moment to quieten the mind by focusing on the breath and your body will follow. Whether you suffer from anxiety or depression, or you just need a moment to relax, using your breath is a simple, easy and effective way to build conscious control over your reactions to life.
Here are some powerful breathing techniques you can use anytime to bring the positive benefits into your life. It will bring a whole new meaning to the saying, ‘Just breathe’.
Ujjayi breath (pronounced ooo-jah-ee)
Ujjayi means Victorious Breath in Sanskrit and is appropriately nicknamed Ocean Breath or even Darth Vadar Breath because it creates a slight hissing sound at the back of your throat. Practising Ujjayi breath helps strengthen the diaphragm, it lengthens the breath and controls the flow of air that enters and leaves our lungs. This helps to regulate our body, including our heart rate, and has an overall calming effect on the nervous system. As a result, it helps to calm the mind, calm symptoms of anxiety and can help with depression.
Nadi Shuddhi (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
Nadi Shuddhi means Energy Channel Cleansing in Sanskrit and comes from the Kundalini yoga practice. This breathing technique creates a sense of relaxation and harmony, helping to settle the mind, body and emotions by balancing the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The left side controls our logic and analytical thought while the right side controls our creativity, emotions and intuition. Creating this balance helps lower our stress response, allowing us to react to stress and anxiety in a more balanced way.
*For best practice, try to keep your inhales and exhales the same length. Start with shorter breaths and you can increase the lengths of your breaths as you practice.
One minute Breath
The One Minute Breath comes from Kundalini yoga and helps to create a deep sense of calm, especially when you feel anxious, stressed or something has triggered you negatively. It is extremely effective at calming anxiety and fear and helps develop our intuition because it activates the entire brain, oxygenates all the blood in our body and keeps our mind extremely focused on our breathing. This breathing technique might be challenging to start with, but in time you can build up your breath length and increase the potency of this practice.
*If trying this for the first time, 20 seconds might feel too long. If so, start with 5 seconds. You can work your way up to increasing the length of each breath over time. Just remember to inhale, hold and exhale for the same amount of time.
Remember that you hold this potent tool of breath wherever you go. It can be your most powerful weapon against stress and anxiety, and simply feeling centered and at ease with life.