The breath is the most powerful tool in your body. In Yoga, the breath is referred to as “prana” which is Sanskrit for “life force”. As the breath supports us as we live (in human form) it is a primary focus in Yoga + Mindfulness practices. If the breath is compromised in a Yoga posture, that is a sign to ease off whatever you are doing until your breath flows easily. In Meditation, students are frequently reminded to notice their breath – if they are holding their breath, again it is an indicator to soften and relax.
The breath is an extremely powerful tool in the body: it is automatic (done without you thinking about it) AND it can be controlled, helping you feel calm and at ease. Taking time to connect with your breath can help you soothe feelings of stress, anxiety and overwhelm by regulating your nervous system AND focusing your busy, intelligent mind. In fact, the following breathing practices help to tone your vagus nerve (the longest nerve in the parasympathetic nervous system) which helps you more easily achieve a state of “rest and digest” – which is crucial for living a happier, healthier life.
Pursed Lip Breathing
Pursed lip breathing is commonly associated with calming the body + mind from an anxiety or panic attack, though it can be greatly helpful if you are feeling even slightly anxious or overwhelmed. This simple breathing practice can help to slow down your breathing pace so that more relaxed or easeful breathing can be achieved.
To begin, find a seated posture: softly observe your breath. Notice if you’re breathing only in and out of your mouth. Notice if you’re onlybreathing through your nose. Notice if your breathing is shallow and quick or deeper and slower. Notice if you feel tension or tightness in any part of your body. Don’t judge – just notice. Where you feel tension, gently soften if possible. Now bring your awareness back to your breath: gently close your mouth and inhale through your nose for 2 – 5 seconds. Then, imagine you’re about to whistle, and slowly exhale through your pursed lips for about 3 – 6 seconds. Try this technique for 10 rounds of breathing (the inhale and exhale is a pair/ 1 round).
Breath Focus Technique
The breath focus technique is great for people who work well with visual imagery. This breathing practice invites you to focus on the sensations of your breath.
To practice: find a comfortable posture where your breath flows with ease. Allow your awareness to rest in your breath (this may be in your chest/ lungs, around your nose or in your low belly). Notice how your breath feels as you inhale and exhale. Notice the temperature of the inhale and the temperature of your exhale. Notice how your body naturally expands and stretches as you inhale, and softens or relaxes as you exhale. Notice if you can catch the space between your inhale – before – it flows into your exhale.
For some people, visualizing the breath as a balloon expanding with the inhale and deflating with the exhale can help. For others, visualizing the breath as a cleansing mist filling your body on the inhale, and removing whatever toxic energy or thoughts no longer serve you on the exhale, is great. Play around with a visualization that resonates with you. Whatever you choose – ensure you stay present to your breath.
Sama vritti, also known as equal breathing, is a common breathing practice used in Yoga. In Sanskrit, sama means “equal” and vritti means “mental fluctuations.” Thus, it translates to “equal mental fluctuation breathing.” It is a powerful breathing practice to help you relax, clear your mind, and improve your focus and concentration.
For this breathing practice, choose a posture where your breath flows easily: Gently notice your breathing – is it quick or more relaxed? Begin to elongate the inhale and exhale so they are the same length. Play around to find the breath count that is best for you. For some practitioners, counts of 3 to 5 work best.
I love to put on a timer for 5mins or to count 10 rounds of equal breathing, to steady my mind and relax my body when I feel tense, anxious or generally out of balance. I encourage you to give it a try as well!
What I love most about breathing exercises is: they can be done anywhere AND anytime. They can help provide space when your thoughts feel unclear. The breath offers a pause + time for you to choose a response, if you are feeling triggered and reactive (helping to prevent you from lashing out). The breath brings you back to the present moment and into your body so you can relax and connect with the wisdom of your body and soul. The breath connects you to the world that surrounds you – reminding you how intricately linked life is.