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Overworked, sleep-deprived, and stressed out? Same. But luckily, there are plenty of ways to regain a sense of calm that don’t require investing a chunk of your paycheck in fancy-schmancy spa treatments. In fact, one the best relaxation methods is entirely free. All you need is a pair of healthy lungs, your breath, and 10 minutes of “me” time.
Ready to harness the power of your inhales and exhales? Here are five ways to relax using breathing exercises borrowed from centuries-old yoga and meditation traditions.
Sama Vritti or equal breathing
This breathing exercise is especially effective before bed. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, this breath can help take your mind off the racing thoughts or whatever might be distracting you.
How to do it: Begin by sitting or lying down in a comfortable position. Your eyes can be open or closed. Inhale for four counts, and then exhale for four counts.
All inhalations and exhalations should be made through your nose, which adds a slight, natural resistance to your breath. Once you get these basics down, try six to eight counts per breath.
Abdominal breathing technique
The abdominal breathing technique can be really helpful before experiencing a particularly stressful event like taking an exam or giving a big presentation. Oy, our hearts are pounding just thinking about it.
Those who operate in a stressed state all the time might be a little shocked by how hard it is to control the breath. So, if the pacing doesn’t come naturally to you at first, don’t sweat it. Just keep practicing.
How to do it: Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Take a deep breath in through your nose, allowing diaphragm (not your chest) to inflate with enough air to create a slight stretching sensation in your lungs. Slowly exhale.
According to experts, taking six to 10 deep, slow breaths per minute for 10 minutes each day using this breathing technique can help reduce your heart rate and blood pressure. Keep at it for six to eight weeks, and those benefits might stick around even longer.
Nadi Shodhana or alternate nostril breathing
Experiencing major deadline pressure at work? Try alternate nostril breathing to refocus and re-energise. It can help and make you feel more awake and alert. It’s almost like a cup of coffee.
How to do it: Start by sitting in a comfortable meditative pose. Hold out your dominant hand and press the tips of your pointer and middle fingers into your palm, leaving your ring finger, pinky finger, and thumb extended.
Bring your hand up in front of your face and press your thumb on the outside of one nostril. Inhale deeply through your open nostril. At the peak of your inhalation, release your thumb, press your ring finger on the outside of your other nostril, and exhale.
Continue this pattern for one to two minutes before switching sides so that you inhale through the nostril that you originally used to exhale, and vice versa. Spend equal amounts of time inhaling and exhaling through both nostrils.
4-7-8 breathing or relaxing breath
This breathing exercise is an alternative to equal breathing that can also help you fall asleep faster. It has roots in yoga’s pranayama, which is all about helping people learn how to gain control over their breath.
How to do it: Begin by sitting or lying down in a comfortable position. Your eyes can be open or closed. Press the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth, slightly open your mouth, and exhale until you reach the bottom of your breath.
Close your mouth and quietly inhale through your nose for four counts. Then hold your breath for seven counts. Finally, exhale very slowly so that it takes a total of eight counts to return to the bottom of your breath. Repeat for four full breaths, and work your way up to eight breaths over time.
Kapalabhati or skull-shining breath
Wake up and look on the bright side of life with this breathing exercise. It’s pretty abdominal-intensive, but it will warm up the body, shake off stale energy, and wake up the brain. If alternate nostril breathing is like a cup of coffee, think of Kapalabhati breathing like a shot of espresso.
How to do it: Begin sitting in an upright position with good posture and your hands on your knees. Take a long, slow inhale through your nose. Then exhale powerfully (also through your nose) by contracting your lower belly.
Your body will naturally inhale again, so focus mainly on your forceful exhales as you continue this fiery breathing technique. Once you’re comfortable with the abdominal contraction component, up your pace to one inhale-exhale every two seconds for a total of 10 breaths.
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