Are you aching to find ways to naturally ease your anxiety? Do you want to learn how to relax without taking a pill or downing a glass of wine? If so, you’re not alone. We all want to feel relaxed and at ease in our mind and body. Sometimes, it’s really hard to do that. Life is full of obstacles and struggles. Depending on our diet, the sleep we’ve managed to get and what’s going on at work, in our personal lives or in the world at large, we may need to learn healthier ways to relax.
Luckily, the ancient yogis knew that by becoming the master of your breath, you can naturally relax your body and mind simultaneously. How did they do it? Your breath has a powerful effect on your nervous system – the system that makes you feel anxious or relaxed. The body's sympathetic nervous system (SNS) can put you into fight-or-flight mode when overly stimulated. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), on the other hand, can put you in a restful state of relaxation where your body becomes a healing force. (Learn more about Mind-Body Health and Happiness.)
By simply elongating your exhalation, you drop into a state of surrender and relaxation. Try inhaling for a count of four and then exhale for a count of six. Do this a few times and then think of the word, “let” as you inhale for four, and “go” as you exhale for six. Do this several times and notice the shift that takes place in your energy field. You’re probably feeling much more relaxed than you did before the practice. This is just one simple example of how powerful your breath is for soothing and calming your body – as well as your mind.
Another way to drop into a state of total relaxation is to combine essential oils with the breath. Take a relaxing essential oil like lavender, chamomile or marjoram, and put a drop or two of the oil on a cotton ball. Now do the exact same breathing technique as you did before, placing the cotton ball just beneath your nose. Inhale to a count of four, and exhale to a count of six. Repeat this several times with the intention of releasing and relaxing any tension you might be holding on to in your body and/or mind. (Read more on Unlocking the Stress in Your Body.)
By now you can probably see the correlation between elongating your breath and dropping into deep states of relaxation.
Holding the breath after the inhale and again after the exhale adds to the sensation of relaxation. In yoga, this is called kumbhaka, or "breath retention." You can experiment with breath retention by simply inhaling to a count of four, holding the inhale for a count of four, exhaling for a count of four, and holding the out breath for a count of four, and then repeating the process over and over again. Try different patterns, such as inhaling for a count of four, holding for a count of seven, and then exhaling for a count of eight, and then repeating the process. This may seem difficult at first, but like anything, the more you do it, the easier and more natural it becomes.
Watching the Breath
You’ll also probably find just how quickly your breathing begins to slow down as soon as you start paying attention to it. Interesting, huh?! You’ll also notice your heart rate slowing down as you do this. It’s amazing how the simple act of slowing down your breath affects so many bodily systems.
Breath of Fire
It’s also interesting that by intentionally speeding up your breath, you can also relax the body and mind. Take the rapid breath of fire, for instance. This type of breathing pattern requires quick inhalations and exhalations through your nose. It’s a rather short and noisy breath, but it helps clear your mind and become more alert. This clearing of the mind is a surefire way to relax because as we all know very well, a cluttered mind that’s running here and there results in increased feelings of stress.
Wind Down With Pranayama
Thanks to the development of pranayama by the ancient yogis, there are so many different ways to control the breath. From rapid breath of fire to nadi shodhana, from the bumblebee breath to ujjayi breathing – all of these techniques teach us how to control our breathing patterns in order to relax both our bodies and minds in times of stress. The more you learn to relax through breathing exercises, the more empowered you’ll feel. You’ll be less dependent upon externals like alcohol, pharmaceuticals or other substances to relax. The world of relaxation through pranayama is one you can enjoy exploring for an entire lifetime. (Continue reading in 5 Yogic Breathing Exercises.)