3 breathing exercises to reduce anxiety

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A deep breath can work wonders for your wellbeing, so to help you get into this beneficial practice, we share three intentional breathing techniques that can help soothe stressed minds, and induce calm

Pursed lip breathing

This technique is all about taking your time and being intentional with every breath. Slowing down your breathing can be particularly helpful for those who experience shortness of breath, by regaining control and making every breath more effective. By taking these mindful, deep, slow breaths you can help to calm your nervous system as well.

  • Start by relaxing your body, especially any tension in your neck and shoulders. You may choose to try this sitting comfortably, or lying down.
  • With your mouth closed, inhale slowly through your nose for the count of two. Try to ensure your belly is rising with the intake of breath, rather than just your chest.
  • Position your lips as if you were about to whistle.
  • Release the breath slowly through your pursed lips for the count of four.
  • Practise this a few times a day to get into the rhythm of it, and in time you may want to increase the count you inhale for – but always try to ensure the exhale is longer.

Humming bee breath (bhramari)

This exercise comes from a pranayama yoga technique with the aim to induce calm, and is believed to particularly help with tension heachaches. The one thing to note is this does involve making a sound out loud (named for the gentle humming of a bee) – so it might be better reserved for use in private, unless you feel confident and comfortable doing it in front of others.

  • Get yourself into a comfortable seated position, and, when ready, close your eyes.
  • Put your first fingers on the bone between your cheek and ear, just above the ear canal (the tragus cartilage), on each side of your head.
  • Inhale deeply.
  • As you exhale, gently press your fingers against the bones on both sides of your head.
  • Keep your mouth closed and allow yourself to release a humming sound with the each of the breaths.
  • The sound you make doesn’t have to be a specific pitch, but it’s believed that a higher note will reap more benefits.
  • Repeat for three of four cycles until you feel soothed

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Alternate nostril breathing

Another pranayama technique, this exercise is believed to help with lowering your heart rate and, in turn, encouraging relaxation, as well as potentially improving your cardiovascular function – but it may be best to avoid if you have a cold or are feeling under the weather. The idea is to promote balance in the body, with the rhythmic breathing of the left and right sides, helping to quiet the mind and induce calm.

  • Sit down comfortably in a quiet, undisturbed spot.
  • Lift your right hand in front of your face, and gently rest both your first and middle fingers down on to the bridge of your nose between the eyebrows.
  • Leaving your remaining fingers extended, the thumb should fall on the right hand side, and your pinky and fourth finger on the left of your nose.
  • Exhale, and then gently use your right thumb to close your right nostril.
  • Inhale through the open left nostril, then close this with your pinky and ring fingers.
  • Remove your thumb from the right nostril, to allow yourself to exhale through it.
  • Now inhale through this right nostril, and close it again.
  • Move the fingers closing your left nostril to exhale from here.
  • This is considered one cycle of the breathing exercise. Repeat this pattern for several minutes and notice how you feel.
  • You should conclude the exercise by exhaling from the left nostril.

To learn more about managing anxiety, or connect with a counsellor, visit counselling-directory.org.uk

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