If you’ve ever been stressed or anxious, you’ve probably been told to take a deep breath. Deep breathing techniques are often used for relaxation and stress management and can be a great way to calm the nerves and reduce anxiety.
Whether you’re feeling anxious about a big event coming up or you’ve just had a hard day, breathing exercises are an easily accessible tool you can keep on hand to cope. Yoga breathing has also been known to improve the quality of sleep and mindfulness, both of which can help to improve mental health.
In fact, I became interested in getting my certification in yoga because of the positive benefits yoga had on my sleep and anxiety levels. I no longer needed my anxiety or sleeping medication once I started practicing yoga regularly! I attribute that mostly to the breathwork that I learned in my yoga classes and practiced daily.
So what exactly is yoga breathing? You will breathe in through the nose for a few-second count and then out through the nose, keeping the mouth closed. This is supposed to gather your prana, or energy, and make it more focused. It’s also calming and allows the nervous system to relax.
Yoga Breathing Exercises
I’ve prepared a list of my favorite yoga breathing exercises for you to try when you need a break from your daily routine. Whether you perform them in the morning, before bed, or throughout the day, you’ll feel a release of unneeded stress and a sense of calm.
Deep belly breathing utilizes the diaphragm to maximize lung expansion. The movement of the diaphragm naturally controls the airflow through your body, forcing the air to move deeply into your belly.
Start in a comfortable position either lying on the floor or sitting in a chair. Place one hand on your chest while placing the other just below the rib cage so that you can feel the movement of your diaphragm. Slowly breathe in through your nose for a count of five. Feel the air move in your body as your stomach rises. Then exhale the air through your mouth for a count of five, feeling your stomach relax inward.
Alternate nostril breathing is a little less common than deep belly breathing, but it can be a great way to practice controlled breathing. Plus, this exercise is the perfect addition to any sort of meditation practice.
Sit in a comfortable position with your legs crossed. Once you finish exhaling, place your right thumb over your right nostril. Inhale for a count of five through your left nostril. Then, cover your left nostril and uncover your right nostril before exhaling for a count of five. Now, inhale through the right nostril, keeping your thumb on the left nostril. Then, cover your right nostril and exhale through the left. Continue alternating between the nostrils for a few minutes.
Breath retention involves holding your breath without inhaling or exhaling for a period of time. Retaining your breath for a short period of time can help with relaxation and stress reduction. I recommend holding the air in for 10 seconds before exhaling and then taking a few regular breaths before repeating the exercise.
Begin sitting with your legs crossed on the floor. Keeping your back straight, breathe in through your nose for five seconds. Hold the air inside your lungs for 10 seconds. Once you’ve reached 10 seconds, exhale slowly through your mouth. Take a few normal breaths before repeating the process.
The breath of fire involves gently inhaling and forcefully exhaling. This exercise helps relieve stress, improve concentration and increase mindfulness.
Sit with your legs crossed on the floor, keeping your back straight. Inhale through your nose for a count of five while placing your hand on your stomach so you can feel it rise. As soon as you finish inhaling, exhale forcefully through your nose, engaging your abdominals. Make sure that your inhale and exhale are the same length, even though they are done with different amounts of force. Repeat this 10 times quickly.
Stephanie Mansour is contributing health and fitness writer for TODAY. She is a certified personal trainer, yoga and Pilates instructor, and weight-loss coach for women. She hosts “Step It Up with Steph” on PBS. Join her complimentary health and weight-loss challenge,