If you’re visiting this article, it’s likely that you’ve already tried the basic breathing exercises, and are looking for something more. If not, I recommend taking a look at the article on 3 Basic Breathing Exercises for Anxiety Relief before diving into this one.
Here, I will introduce 4 additional breathing exercises that are a little more advanced, taken from Yoga practices and designed to deeply relax your mind and body. Before you try these for the first time, try to find a nice and quiet place for yourself, so you can truly experience their calming effects.
Which Breathing Exercise Should I Try?
Before we jump in, here is a brief summary and guide on which exercise you might want to check out, based on the desired effects. Each of the exercises introduced in this article are unique in their own way, and have different benefits. See which ones might best suit your needs.
If you’re anxious and nervous before a performance or presentation…
Try alternative nostril breathing. It’s a relatively quick and easy exercise that you can perform anytime, anywhere, without any prior practice or posing requirements.
If you have experienced emotional shock and want to practice meditation…
Try the Sudarshan Kriya yogic (SKY) breathing cycles. Incorporate the practice of alternating between ocean breath and bellows breath somewhere in your daily routine, preferably around the same time every day. The cyclic exercise stimiulates both your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, promoting a more calm state of being in general.
If you want to clear your mind before a good night’s rest…
Try ocean breath, or alternative nostril breathing, whichever you may prefer. Both exercises have the effects of calming the mind and body and reduce any lingering stress. I personally recommend ocean breath before bed, as the sounds of your breath can also have a soothing effect on the mind.
If you want to refresh your mind and loosen up your body in the morning…
Try lion’s breath. Start your day fresh by relieving the tension in your upper body area. It takes little time, and can be practiced in your bedroom before you get ready for the day. The exercise will help you to begin your day with a clear mind and relaxed body.
Now, let’s get into the details of how to do each breathing exercise.
Pranayama Yogic Breathing
Pranayama is a type of yoga exercise that focuses on alternative methods of breathing, many of which help with anxiety. Below are just a couple of the pranayama breathing exercises, amongst many more.
Alternative Nostril Breathing (Nadhi Sodhana)
Alternative nostril breathing increases oxygen intake into the body, therefore having calming effects on the mind and body. It is believed to reduce stress, promote concentration, and aid in a good night’s rest.
How to do it:
1. Sit down or lie down in a comfortable position.
2. Empty out all the air from your lungs with a deep exhale through the mouth.
3. Take the thumb of your right hand, and cover your right nostril. Inhale deeply through your left nostril only, for 4 counts.
4. Use the ring finger of the same hand to hold your left nostril closed, and hold your breath for 4 to 8 counts, with both nostrils covered.
5. Release your thumb, and deeply exhale through your right nostril, for 4 counts. Pause for a moment, before exhaling through the same nostril.
6. Repeat the exercise by covering both nostrils, holding your breath for a moment, then exhaling through the left nostril.
7. One ‘cycle’ is completed when breath is exhaled out of both nostrils. Repeat up to 10 cycles and see how your body responds.
Lion’s breath is named for the position you take while practicing the exercise, as well as the way in which breath is released through your mouth, almost as if you are ‘panting’ like a lion. This exercise utilizes the muscles in your face and chest, therefore promoting the release of any tension in the body, reducing stress levels.
How to do it:
1. Get down into a kneeling position, with your knees at about shoulder width. Cross your ankles, with your right foot over the left foot, and sit your bottom down on your ankles. (If this position is too uncomfortable, you can first practice by just sitting cross-legged.)
2. Place your hands on your knees with your arms and fingers stretched out comfortably.
3. Take a breath in through your nose.
4. To exhale, open your mouth wide with your tongue out, and release your breath by making a ‘ha’ sound. Stretch your tongue out as far as you can, and your mouth as wide open as possible.
5. Relax your face again to inhale.
6. Repeat these steps up to 6 times, switching the cross of your ankles at the halfway point.
Sudarshan Kriya Yogic (SKY) Breathing
SKY breathing is a cyclical breathing exercise that combines slow and fast cycles of breathing. It has proved helpful in reducing negative emotions following traumatic events, such as catastrophic natural disasters including Hurricane Katrina. The slow, deep breathing cycles reduce stress, depression, anxiety and insomnia, amongst other negative states of mind. The fast breathing cycles mimics a state of exercise, which helps to boost stress tolerance. The combination of these cycles together creates a calm emotional state by reducing excitement. When you practice these cycles, try to make sure you are on an empty stomach, especially during the fast breathing cycle.
Cycle 1: Ocean Breath (Ujjayi)
Ocean breath encourages full expansion of the lungs at roughly 2 to 4 breaths per minute, therefore allowing you to focus on your breath, promoting calmness of the mind.
How to do it:
1. Sit down comfortably with a straight spine.
2. Take a steady inhale through your nose until your lungs are at full capacity. Feel your spine elongate as your lungs are filled.
3. Hold your breath for a second, consticting the air at the back of your throat as if you are getting ready to whisper.
4. Exhale slowly from the nose, through both nostrils. This will sound a bit like the waves of an ocean, hence the name Ocean Breath. You should feel the air passing over the roof of your mouth as you exhale.
5. Repeat these steps up to 20 times.
Cycle 2: Bellows Breath (Bhastrika)
During bellows breath, air is rapidly cycled through the lungs at roughly 30 breaths per minute. This creates excitation, which is then followed by calmness.
How to do it:
1. Sit down comfortably with a straight spine.
2. Your first inhale can be a natural, slow inhale, to prepare yourself for the exercise.
3. Exhale sharply and forcefully by contracting the muscles in your abdomen. During initial practice, it may help to keep a hand on your abdominal muscles to help with the contraction.
4. Inhale quickly by completely relaxing the abdominal muscles, allowing air to fill up to your diaphragm.
5. Repeat these steps in quick succession for 7 to 10 breaths, of up to 3 rounds. While you are still new to the practice, a deep, steady breath should be taken in between each round.
SKY Breathing in Practice
Repeat the Ocean Breath and Bellow Breath cycles in sucession, for 3 to 5 cycles at first. You can increase the number of cycles as you get more comfortable with the exercise. You can also try practicing each type of breathing individually at first, to familiarize yourself with both breathing practices, before moving onto the full SKY breathing method. Again, however, remember to keep an empty stomach during the Bellows Breath (fast breathing) exercise in order to avoid nausea.
Creating a Routine
No matter which exercise you choose to practice, the key to increasing its effects are to make a habit out of it. The more you practice a specific breathing exercise and associate it with stress-relief, the more effective it will become in future situations. Try a few of the breathing exercises, and see which ones bring you the most positive feelings. Then create a routine of practicing that specific exercise at a certain time every day. If these breathing exercises seem too complex or convoluted for your purposes, try checking out our article on more basic breathing exercises!
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