Your breath is an incredibly potent healing force. In the ancient language of Sanskrit, breath is life and it’s known as prana, or life force energy. This sacred energy enters us with every inhale and exits with every exhale. It’s a powerful current of healing that we can access in each and every moment, particularly when we’re feeling waves of stress and anxiety.
The ancient yogis developed sophisticated breathing techniques known as pranayama, which work to relieve stress and balance the nervous system. Some techniques are incredibly simple, while others are a bit more complicated. Yet, each and every one of them helps us to slow down, to drop into our bodies and become grounded in present moment awareness, which naturally helps us release tension that we might be holding onto in the body and/or mind.
Here I'll share how to get instantly in tune with your body and mind when you're feeling stressed, then I'll offer three breathing techniques to try that will help dissipate your anxiety.
Start With Mindfulness
Most of the time, we don’t even know we’re breathing. We breathe automatically and without notice. Switching over to a conscious breathing pattern instantly changes everything. We become mindful of our breath, and in doing so, we begin to relieve the kind of anxiety that accompanies an unaware way of moving through the world.
(Learn more on how The Art of Mindfulness Is a Masterpiece of Moments in the 'Now' (5 Tips on How).)
Many of us have an unhealthy pattern of holding our breath–especially when we’re stressed. By getting the prana moving freely through the body, we can move that stress out of the body and relieve anxiety in the process. When you’re feeling anxious, it’s important to bring your attention immediately to your breath. Use it to tap into the life force energy within you and surrounding you. The Universe is here to guide you and protect you in times of struggle, and when you bring your awareness to your breath, you can connect to this sacred life force energy.
When you get deeply present with your breath, you slow the chaos of your mind, which is where most of our stress resides. Although, stress also gets lodged into our tissues, which is why movement linked with breath is so good for releasing it.
(To help, here are 6 Techniques to Staying Present.)
Getting attuned to your breath also relieves anxiety by bringing awareness into the present moment. The breath is always and forever happening in the present moment–nowhere else. When we become rooted to the present, anxieties are more likely to lift because the present moment is generally a safe one. We’re not likely to be running from tigers in the African savanna or dodging bullets in warfare. The present moment is exactly as it should be, and dropping into this space is a great anxiety reliever.
Try Yogic Breathing Techniques
Complete Yogic Breath
One of the best ways to relieve anxiety with your breath is by utilizing the complete yogic breath. For this type of breathing, bring your awareness to your breath and inhale to a count of four. Now, hold for a count of four. Exhale for a count of four, and hold the out breath for a count of four. Again, inhale to a slow count of four. Hold for a slow count of four. Exhale for a slow count of four, and hold for a slow count of four. You can do this as many times as you like, or until you begin to feel the anxiety melting slowly away.
Breath control is at the heart of the ancient yogis’ superpowers, and they knew that in order to harness super levels of consciousness, they would have to become masters of their breath. Another powerful technique they devised, which balances the nervous system, is the one known as nadi shodhana. This is the one where you plug your right nostril while inhaling through the left, and then plug the left nostril while exhaling through the right. Then you inhale through the right, keeping the left nostril plugged, and then plug the right nostril while exhaling through the left. Doing this with the eyes closed while focusing internally on the third eye is a great way to relieve anxiety, balance the nervous system, and become centered within your breath.
This is another simple yet profound breathing technique for anxiety relief. You can do it anytime, anywhere–perhaps before a stressful event or important exam. All you do is place your hands on your belly and inhale into it, feeling the expansion as you inhale and the contraction as you exhale. Try slowing the breath down so that you have six or seven deep inhalations and exhalations per minute. Doing deep breathing for 10 minutes naturally soothes your nervous system, calms the mind, and even lowers blood pressure.
(For more techniques, Breathe Easy With These 5 Yogic Breathing Exercises.)
Befriend Your Breath
Regard your breath as your best friend and ally. It’s there for you whenever you need it and the more awareness you bring to it, the better it will work for you. Ease tension and anxiety with your own life force energy, and experience greater levels of self-trust and self-awareness as you do.
(Read on for how Conscious Breathing Will Boost Your Yoga Practice.)