Breathing Techniques for Anxiety, Stress, and a Good Night’s Sleep

Stress isn’t always bad, though. Stress within your comfort zone can help you perform under pressure, motivate you to do your best, sharpens your concentration when you’re attempting the game-winning free throw, even keep you safe when danger looms. Stress can also help you rise to meet challenges.

But when stress becomes overwhelming, it can damage your emotions, health, relationships, depletes the body of nutrients and destabilizes brain and endocrine chemistry. Reducing your stress levels can not only make you feel better right now, but may also protect your health long-term.

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as fear or worry, that can be mild or severe. It incorporates both the emotions and the physical sensations we might experience when we are worried or nervous about something. Anxiety is considered a problem when symptoms interfere with a person’s ability to sleep or otherwise function.

Benefits of breathing exercises:

Researchers have documented the health benefits of a regular practice of simple deep breathing exercises, which include:

  • Reduced anxiety and depression;
  • Lower stress levels lead to higher productivity;
  • Increases energy levels, so that the body can use for its constant process of detoxifying and self-healing;
  • Lower blood pressure;
  • Opens up the chest to make breathing fuller and easier, which facilitates emotional stability and mental clarity;
  • Feeling better and more present in your body, which naturally leads to a greater desire to exercise for health and enjoyment;
  • Muscle relaxation.

Here are 5 breathing techniques for anxiety, stress, and a good night’s sleep:

#1 Alternate nostril breathing

Alternate nostril breathing is a wonderful breathing technique for anxiety because it is said to balance the right and left hemispheres of the brain and calm the nerves.

Method:

Find a quite place and sit in any comfortable seated position. Relax the body and take a few deep breaths, allowing your body and mind to settle. Inhale through the left nostril (close your right nostril with your right thumb). Exhale through your right nostril (close your left nostril with your right index or ring finger). Inhale through your right nostril (close your left nostril with your right index or ring finger). Exhale through your left nostril (close your right nostril with your thumb). Let each inhalation and exhalation be the same length, slow, smooth, and relaxed. When you are finished: relax both arms at your sides, sit and breathe naturally for a few moments before opening your eyes and getting on with your day. Gradually increase the length of your breath, but do not practice breath retention except under the careful supervision of a teacher.

#2 4-7-8 Breathing

This is a simple breathing technique that seems to be very effective in counteracting the natural effects of adrenaline, thus forcing your body to slow down the heart rate.

Method:

Sit up straight in a comfortable position. Place the tip of your tongue on the ridge of your gums, just under your front teeth. Expand your diaphragm and slowly inhale through your nose for a count of 4. Hold your breath for another count of 7. Open your mouth slightly and exhale for 8 counts, drawing your diaphragm in. This concludes the first cycle. Repeat the same process 3 more times for a total of 4 renditions.

#3 Equal breathing (Sama Vritti)

Sama Vritti is a Sanskrit phrase, ”sama” translates as ”flat, even, smooth, equal or same” and ”vritti” translates as ”modifications or fluctuations”. This breathing method calms the body by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. When practicing before bed, it can also help you fall asleep faster.

Method:

First, get comfortable. Sit cross-legged, as in easy pose. Allow your body to relax, rest your shoulders, and try not to force anything. Give yourself a few deep breaths. Start to slowly count to 4 as you inhale. Take a moment at the top of your inhale with the lungs full of air. Then also count to 4 as you exhale. Again take a moment to feel empty. Then inhale again to another count of 4. Continue this pattern. This breathing exercise is to match the lengths of your inhales and exhales. You may experiment with changing the number you count to, just make sure your inhale and exhale stay the same length. Continue breathing this way for several minutes.

#4 Buteyko breathing

It is effective for sleep apnea, allergies, snoring, panic attacks, hyperventilation syndrome, and other stress-related diseases.

Method:

This is a breathing exercise that teaches asthmatics to consciously reduce either breathing rate or breathing volume. Sit upright, relax. Relax your chest and belly muscles while breathing. Focus, close your eyes and look up. Breath through your nose gently (keep your mouth closed). Breath slowly and shallow. Exhale slowly until you feel there is no air left in your lungs. Hold your breath as long as you can and then return to gentle breathing.

#5 Skull shining breath (Kapalabhati)

This breathing technique is said to “make the skull shine” by cleansing the nasal passageways and sinuses, and eventually providing the brain with a fresh supply of oxygen-rich blood.

Method:

Sit comfortably with your spine erect. Place your hands on the knees, palms open to the sky. This one starts with a long, slow inhale, followed by a quick, powerful exhale generated from the lower belly. Once comfortable with the contraction, increase the pace to one inhale-exhale (all through the nose) one to 2 seconds, for a total of 10 breaths. After completing the round, relax with your eyes closed and observe the sensations in your body.

Even a limited practice of this unique breathing exercise is useful. Start slowly and see if you find it beneficial for you.

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