Using Your Breath To Elicit Awareness & Calm
Written By Gina Ciaccio
Four Essential Breathing Techniques For Daily Practice
I understand how difficult it can be to stop during a time of anxiety to remind yourself to breathe. But, once you develop a daily practice, your brain will take over and your inner voice will trigger calming breath. Reconnecting with the powerful effects breathing has on our nervous system, mood, and everyday bodily functions is essential to our overall well-being. Below are some breathing techniques that I’ve put into my daily flow as needed and as part of a ritual. Side note: To begin reading about these and practicing, it’s important to be in a comfortable zone with an open mind!
Belly Breathing The #1 activation of your calm and rest nervous system trigger. A great way to reconnect with yourself, what you’re experiencing, and how you’re feeling. I like to start the below three techniques with simple Belly Breathing.
Find yourself sitting comfortably, close your eyes, right hand over heart, left hand on lower belly, breathe and exhale through your nostrils while feeling the breath fill up and leave your belly. If your chest is filling up this is connected to our stress response. Recalibrate by focusing on activating your breathing through your belly and nostrils to achieve a calming effect.
It’s simple to take a few moments after reading the news or having a heavy conversation to pause and practice this technique.
Breath of Fire (Agni Pran) A technique from the foundations of Kundalini Yoga which I’ve found to increase my energy in the morning, connect to the organs in my abdomen, and ignite a calming effect. This is a great breath to start your day with - it will kick start your wake-up process, help to restore your gut, engage your spine, and connect your brain to the practice of breathing.
Start by sitting in a comfortable position on the ground cross-legged with your hands rested face up on your knees, eyes gently closed. You can hold your hands in a prayer position as well, whichever is most comfortable for you. Correct your posture by sitting up straight (against a wall if needed), relax your shoulders, engage your belly and navel, and activate your belly while breathing in and out through your nostrils to relax.
The Breath of Fire is a very quick and equalized inhale/exhale through your nostrils while filling up your belly and pushing the air out. The goal is to have your inhale and exhale evenly paced, matched, quick, and coincide with your belly movement.
Heavily breathe in through your nostrils filling up your belly with air and release the breath through your nostrils quickly while contracting your belly and pulling your navel to your spine. Speed this process up so that you are experiencing 1-3 breath cycles per second and it becomes rhythmic. It is a very quick-paced in-out-in-out-in-out breath through your nostrils, connecting to your belly in-out-in-out-in-out as well. Inhale/belly fills up, exhale/belly contracts.
It may make you light-headed at first, and if so, just relax to a calming Belly Breath. I try to practice Breath of Fire for 1-3 minutes in the morning and end with a calming nostril breath for about 30 seconds and then follow with yogic stretches.
4-7-8 Breathing Via Dr. Andrew Weil, this is a steady breathing technique for calming anxiety and can help you relax before bed.
4-7-8 represents seconds per inhale-hold-exhale. Inhale through your nostrils for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat 4 times.
Practice a few times a day, and eventually work up to 8 cycles. You’re welcome to practice this laying down at night, in a comfortable position seated at a desk, or in your meditation pose - whatever suits you best.
Click HERE to see Dr. Weil’s explanation for the 4-7-8 breathing.
Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana) Nadi Shodhana translates to subtle energy clearing in Sanskrit and also is a yogic breathing technique. Sometimes I’ll practice this style when I have extra time sitting in my truck or am about to pick up my phone to look at the news for the 3rd time in an hour. It’s great to practice this technique for up to five minutes at a time, but use it as you need it.
For Alternate Nostril Breathing, we cover up one nostril as we inhale then exhale through the other and switch. This activates the connection between both sides of your brain as well as elicits an incredibly cool and calming sensation. You may get lightheaded on your first go, but keep on practicing and you’ll feel the benefits.
Start by sitting in a comfortable position with your spine upright and supported. We will be using our thumb and forefinger to cover our nostrils. I use my right hand, so I place my left hand on my left knee.
Cover your right nostril with your thumb and breath in through your left nostril.
Open your right nostril and cover your left nostril with your index finger and exhale from your right nostril.
Now, still with your left nostril covered, inhale in your right nostril.
Switch sides - open your left nostril and cover your right nostril with your thumb. Inhale and exhale from your left nostril.
Repeat this - inhale/exhale on one side while the other side is covered and switch.
This process usually slows down my breath to where I take deep inhales, hold for a second or two, then take long exhales.
Click HERE for a reference for Alternate Nostril Breathing.
About the Author:
Gina Ciaccio is a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Fine Art. She has a no-nonsense, intuitive, and realistic approach to health and wellness.
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