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.
The ancient yogis knew that by becoming the master of your breath, you can naturally relax your body and mind simultaneously. 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. (Read more on the link between Mind-Body Health and Happiness.)
Here are four ways you can use your breath to relax naturally anytime, anywhere.
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.
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 trying
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.
Breathing in Essential Oils
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.
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 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 (not Wine) Down
Thanks to the development of breathing techniques by the ancient yogis, there are now so many different ways to control the breath. From rapid breath of fire to other techniques such as nadi shodhana, bumblebee breath and ujjayi breathing – all of these 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 the breath is one you can enjoy exploring for an entire lifetime.
(Continue reading in Breathe Easy With These 5 Yogic Breathing Exercises.)