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3 Mindful Breathing Exercises

woman meditating to calm her overactive mind

Feeling a little stressed?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Findings from APA’s (American Psychological Association) 2010 Stress in America survey suggested that “most Americans are suffering from moderate to high stress, with 44 percent reporting that their stress levels have increased over the past five years.”  

So how can we experience some calm?

A technique that may help is through breathing.

Why?

Because when the body is stressed it can move into fight or flight mode. While this helps us deal with situations that require quick action, it causes problems when the response is constantly provoked by day-to-day events, such as money issues or relationship woes.

As the theory goes, by using breathing techniques, you can trick the body into relaxing.  

According to Live Strong, this is because breathing slowly “activates the hypothalamus”, which is connected to the pituitary gland in the brain that then sends out neurohormones that inhibit stress-producing hormones and trigger a relaxation response in the body.

So without further ado, here are 3 breathing exercises that may help you calm down:

1. Equal Breathing, or Sama vritti

Equal breathing is one of the most basic forms of breathing techniques, but it can be quite effective in helping the body to calm down.

According to Very Well Fit:

“Sama vritti, however, is a straightforward practice that anyone can learn. It focuses on the idea of “equal” breaths, meaning that inhalation lasts for the same amount of time as exhalation…

How it’s done: To do this breathing technique, firstly inhale through the nose to a count of 4, then exhale from the nose for a count of 4.

If you’re the type who likes to constantly improve at something, then over time you can increase the number seconds you inhale and exhale for. Just make sure it’s equal.

Yogis generally do 6-8 counts per breath. This will help to calm the nervous system and reduce stress.

When should you use it? This is a brilliant technique because you can pretty much do it anywhere and anytime that you feel stressed. It’s also an excellent technique to do before you sleep.

2. Progressive Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation has been suggested as a helpful technique to calm anxiety.

According to Very Well Mind:

“A systematic review conducted in 2008 and published in the journal BMC Psychiatry showed the efficacy of relaxation training, including PMR, in the treatment of anxiety. Therefore, if you are looking for evidence-based options to help treat your social anxiety, PMR may be a good choice.”

How it’s done: This is a two-step process. First, you take a big deep breath in and tense a particular part of your body, such as your hand. After holding that tension for 5 seconds,  release the tension and exhale your breath.

As you’re doing the 2nd step, you should feel the muscles become loose and limp as the tension flows out.

According to the experts, it’s best to breathe in through the nose, and out through the mouth.

When should you use it? You can use this anywhere, however, it requires slightly more concentration than Equal Breathing, so definitely don’t do this while you’re driving!

Also, if you find you’re hurting your muscles while tensing, then tone it down a bit. Hurting your muscles is not the goal.

3. Alternate Nostril Breathing

According to Health Line, alternate nostril breathing may help reduce stress:

“One of the main benefits of alternate nostril breathing is that it may lower stress. A 2013 study found that people who practiced alternate nostril breathing lowered their perceived stress levels.”

How it’s done:  I’m sure you can guess what this technique involves from the title. To practice, hold the left thumb over the left nostril and inhale deeply through the right nostril. At the peak of inhalation, close off the right nostril with the ring finger, then exhale through the left nostril.

When you should you use it? According to Yogis, this technique makes you feel more centered and tends to wake up you up. So this is a great one to use before an important meeting or to get your day off to a great start.

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Lachlan Brown

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you to want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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