“Just take a deep breath.” We’ve all heard this advice at some point or another. The phrase has become synonymous with “just relax,” so, more often than not, we brush off the comment and carry on with our day. But we shouldn’t take this suggestion lightly — simply taking a few deep breaths is actually great strategy for staying stress-free. Doctors and psychologists agree: Breathing is one of the easiest ways to improve mental and physical health, reports the Wall Street Journal. Breathing has been scientifically proven to slow your heart rate, lower blood pressure, improve the immune system, and reduce anxiety. But as we go through our hectic days, one of the first things we tend to forgo is the simple act of inhaling and exhaling. Stop making this major health mistake! Bring back your breath with these five exercises.
1. Alternate nostril breathing
This exercise, also known as Nadi Shodhana, has been a long-time go-to for yogis. It’s meant to bring calm, balance, and unite the right and left sides of the brain, reports Time. To complete the breath, start in a comfortable position, and then hold your right thumb over your right nostril while inhaling deeply through the left. Once you’ve fully inhaled, close your left nostril and then release the right, allowing your breath to exhale through the other side. While this may seem slightly awkward at first, it’s a fantastic step to add to your morning routine. Not only will it help you begin your busy day immediately stress-free, but it will also make you feel wide awake and ready to take on the world.
Another great exercise to kick off your day is firebreath or breath of fire. This one is a foundational breathing technique of Kundalini yoga practice. It’s meant to expand lung capacity, flush out toxins, and increase strength. To try it for yourself, sit in a position that won’t block your ability to take full breaths. Then you pant like a dog (yes, you heard that right). Begin panting with an open mouth and then through your nostrils with mouth closed. While this one is probably best to do in the privacy of your own home or at yoga class — since your co-workers may be a little concerned if you crank out a few of these breaths at the office — according to NPR, after doing firebreath, you’ll feel energized enough to run around the block.
3. Abdominal breathing technique
Even if your morning starts off with some great breathing work, it might not be enough to combat all the stressors you encounter later in the day. That’s where a few, more subtle, breathing exercises come in. Try abdominal breathing, for example. All you have to do is place on hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Then, take a deep breath through your nose and make sure your diaphragm (not chest) fills with air. Ideally, according to Greatist, you should try to get in “6-10 of these breaths per minute for 10 minutes a day to experience immediate reductions to heart rate and blood pressure.”
Even though it may seem unnatural to let your belly fill up like a balloon, abdominal breathing is actually the healthiest way to breathe. Keeping that idea in mind, this one is probably the most important exercise on our list. Taking 10 minutes to focus on this breath every day will help retrain your quality of breath, which will improve your general day-to-day stress level and health. Plus, it’s the perfect way to relieve anxiety right before a big presentation or meeting.
4. Equal breathing
Also known as Sama Vritti in the yoga world, this is another breathing exercise you can try anytime, anywhere. All you have to do is inhale for a count of four, and then exhale for four, all through the nose. According to Time, breathing through the nose adds a natural resistance to your breath, causing you to slow down and focus. While it’s a great way to relax during the day, it’s also an effective technique before bed. If your mind is racing, count your breaths (like counting sheep, but better).
5. The 4-7-8 technique
One breathing exercise that’s gotten a ton of hype is the “4-7-8” technique, which is supposed to help you get to sleep in less than a minute. In case you haven’t already tried the trendy technique out, here’s the run-down according to Medical Daily:
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose, while counting to four.
- Hold your breath for seven seconds.
- Exhale all your air through your mouth, making another whoosh sound while counting to eight.
- All of that counts as one breath. Now inhale again and repeat all the steps (1-4) three more times for a total of four complete breaths.