Even beginner yoga students can notice a difference in their moods before and after practice. The secret lies in the breath and the branch of yoga known as pranayama. Breathing exercises used for centuries by yogis are so relevant in today’s overworked, overstimulated world. Slowing the breath and focusing on the exhalation can trigger your vagus nerve, which in turn kicks your body into rest-and-digest mode (aka stimulates the parasympathetic nervous response). Your breath can influence your autonomic nervous system, slowing your heart rate and digestion, or it can be used for energy or even a self-esteem boost.
It turns out controlling your breath can be the most powerful tool in your stress-relief toolbox. Here are some simple ways to get started, with exercises adapted from yoga.
How to do it: This is the simplest breathing exercise. You can do it anytime, anywhere — it’s perfect when you need to chill out.
- If you’re able, close your eyes and place one hand on your heart and the other over your belly button. (You can skip this part at the office.)
- Take 3 slow, deep breaths in and out through your nose.
- Focus on your exhale, physically following it through your body.
- Simply focusing on your breath is often enough to shift you out of “go” mode into a state of calm.
- Repeat as needed.
How to do it: This technique involves short, forceful exhalations through the nose and more passive, somewhat longer inhalations. It’s energizing.
- Inhale deeply.
- Contract your lower belly, then exhale forcefully and quickly.
- Release your belly, which naturally allows air into your lungs.
- Repeat up to 20 times.
Note: Don’t try this practice with a full belly.
How to do it: Sighing feels so good because exhaling is naturally relaxing. This exercise mellows you out after a long day.
- Start by taking a deep breath in to a silent count of 5.
- Exhale, counting slowly to 5.
- Inhale again to 5, then exhale to 6.
- Repeat as desired, lengthening only your exhale one more count each time.
How to do it: To do this one, you’ll need to be able to curl your tongue. If you can’t, keep your teeth close together, with the tongue between them, or keep your lips tightly pursed.
- Start with a deep inhale.
- Roll your tongue, then stick it out and exhale slowly through it.
- Repeat a few more times, until you feel calmer and cooler.
How to do it: This is the silliest breathing exercise, but it’s effective. Lion’s breath is perfect when you need to let something go or feel more joyful. It also relieves tension in your face.
- Inhale through your nose.
- Exhale forcefully through your mouth (make the sound of “ha”), stick your tongue out and open your eyes wide as you look up. Pretend you’re roaring.
- Repeat at least 3 more times.
How to do it: Do this exercise in your car or when you’re alone, since it does make noise. It might feel ridiculous, but the vibrations are soothing.
- Inhale through your nose.
- Press your teeth together and, as you exhale, make a buzzing sound.
- Repeat a few more times.