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Five Breathing Techniques that Really Work

Women breathing during yoga

Did you know that breathing is the only antioxidant you don’t have to eat? The quality of your breathing can influence the levels of stress and its impact on the body. When you learn to control your breathing, you learn how to be in charge of a variety of other body processes such as your heart rate, blood pressure and your overall stress levels.

When our body moves from a relaxation state to a stress response, what really happens is that the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood is tipped, in favor of oxygen. High oxygen in the blood goes along with high blood pressure, increased heart rate and variety of other, related processes which prepare us for the ‘fight or flight’ reaction.

Fast, shallow breathing helps to speed up that process and slow, deep breathing, slows it down.

Learning to observe and consciously modulate your breathing can greatly help you to monitor your stress levels.

Here are five breathing techniques that can be used every day to help you develop more mastery over your own individual stress response:

1. The 4-7-8 breathing

This technique acts like a reset button for a nervous system overwhelmed with stress. Try inhaling through your nose while counting to 4, then hold your breath counting to 7 and breathe out through your mouth, counting to 8. Repeat this technique 4 times and observe its effects on the body. You are likely to experience an immediate release of tension and pleasant feelings of greater calm and balance. This technique has been shown to cause lasting changes in the breathing patterns, if used every day for 4 to 6 weeks.

2. Mindful breathing

Mindful breathing focuses on mere awareness of your breathing and not on changing it. You are not forcing you breath to be any particular way, just simply observing it. What ends up happening, however, is that the longer you simply observe your breath, the slower and more relaxed it eventually becomes. Take a moment to become aware of the air coming in through your nostrils and traveling down, filling up your lungs, abdomen and stretching your diaphragm muscles. Then notice the air travelling back up and being exhaled. See how long you can simply observe your breath, before you become distracted. Each time your attention wanders, bring it back to a place in the body, where you can feel your breath most vividly.

3. Focused mantra breathing

If you like the idea of mindful breathing, but find it hard to calm you mind enough to follow your breath, use a mantra as a focus point. A mantra can be any word or a phrase that you will repeat quietly to yourself, in rhythm of your breathing. For example, you could say: IN every time you breathe in, and OUT every time you breathe out. Repeat this over and over then watch your mind becoming more calm and focused.

4. The square breathing

If you are a very visual person, you will certainly enjoy this technique. Visualize a square. With each breath, imagine you are drawing one of the sides of a square. Inhale, count to four and imagine drawing a horizontal line, then hold your breath, count to four and imagine drawing a vertical line, next exhale, count to four and draw a horizontal line, and pause, count to four, complete your square with another vertical line.

5. Alternate nostril breathing

This breathing technique can help you to calm an agitated mind. Use your right thumb to close off your right nostril, inhale slowly through your left nostril, then hold your breath, while you close off your left nostril, and breath out through your right nostril. Pause for a moment, then breathe in through your right nostril and repeat the process.