Breathing Exercises To Make You Happier, Healthier And More Together

What if we told you that there was a way to boost your focus, energy levels and immune system, blitz stress and anxiety and set yourself up for a sound night’s sleep? Feeling cautiously optimistic yet? Now what if we told you that you wouldn’t have to get out of that chair or fish out your credit card..? Breathing: we all do it, but few of us are reaping maximum benefit. Done right though, it could make us healthier, happier and more productive. Why not take 10 minutes out to try one of these life-enhancing breathing exercises today?

The best breathing techniques for…

Overall health and wellbeing

Pranayama, an ayurvedic breathing technique practiced in yoga, has been found to decrease stress, lower blood pressure and boost immunity. In one study, physiological markers of stress-related inflammation decreased when participants performed 10 minutes of ‘om’ chanting followed by 10 minutes of 2-8-4 pranayamic breathing.  

1. Sit in a comfortable upright position with your back straight, eyes closed.
2. Bring your attention to the rise and fall of your natural breath for a few moments.
3. Inhale through the nose for 2 counts, imagining your lungs filling from bottom to top.
4. Hold the breath for 8 counts.
5. Exhale through the nose for 4 counts, imagining your lungs slowly emptying from the top, middle and bottom. Continue for 8-10 minutes.

Sleep

Struggle to wind down at bedtime? Dr. Andrew Weil, founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, says the 4-7-8 breathing technique can reduce stress and promote a good night’s sleep.

1. Sit up in bed, keeping your spine tall. Press the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, just behind your top teeth.
2. Holding this position, close your mouth and inhale through the nose for 4 counts.
3. Hold the breath for 7 counts.
4. Exhale through the mouth for 8 counts. Try to complete 4 full in-hold-out breath cycles.

Anxiety

Breathing through the nose sends signals of relaxation to the brain, whilst breathing through the mouth can send subconscious signals of alarm, according to experts. Yogis swear by the practise of Nadi Shodhana – or alternate nostril breathing – to relieve stress and anxiety.

1. Sit in a comfortable upright position, closing your eyes.
2. Gently close your left nostril with your right ring finger and inhale through your right nostril.
3. Release your left nostril, closing your right nostril with your right thumb. Exhale through your left nostril. Continue for 8-10 minutes.

Focus

Mindfulness meditation centres on a gentle, relaxed focus on the breath, but evidence suggests that its benefits extend much further. Hone your focus and dampen the negative effects of stress and anxiety with this basic technique, used in Zen practice.

1. Sit in a comfortable upright position, eyes closed and spine tall.
2. Bring your attention to your breath. Note where you feel the rising and falling sensation most strongly, and how the breath feels as it enters and exits your body. Try not to change how you are breathing – simply notice how it feels.
3. Notice when thoughts arise, then gently guide your attention back to the breath.
4. After a few minutes have elapsed, try counting your exhalations as they pass. Once you reach 5, start again at 1 – you’ll be amazed how easy it is to catch yourself at 7, 10 or even 15! It may be a few days, weeks or months before you notice the benefits of this one, but it’s worth it in the long run, we promise! Try to practise this technique for at least 10 minutes at a time, once or twice a day.

Energy

Dr. Weil believes his ‘stimulating breath’ (or ‘bellows breath’) exercise, adapted from yogic breathing techniques, is as effective as a cup of coffee when it comes to boosting energy and alertness. Try it when the post-lunch dip hits…

1. Sit in a comfortable upright position.
2. Inhale and exhale through the nose, keeping your mouth closed but relaxed.
3. Your inhalations and exhalations should be of equal duration, but as short as possible (yes, you’re meant to make a noise!). Aim for 3 complete in-out breath cycles per second. On your first attempt, stop after 15 seconds. Try to keep going for an additional 5 seconds with each attempt, until you are able to continue for a full minute.

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