Learning to follow the breath is one of the most basic mindfulness exercises for stress, and for good reason: Mindful breathing has the power to reduce stress on a physical level, and can actually retrain the stress response in the nervous system. Practicing mindful breathing allows you to activate your body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which is the branch of your nervous system that “puts the brakes” on the fight-or-flight stress response. The breathing exercises below can be used as part of a daily mindfulness practice, or can be used on their own as a way to calm down during times of high stress.
Nadi Shodhana, also called “alternate nostril breathing,” is a yogic practice that can help to quickly calm the mind. To do this simple exercise, place your thumb over your right nostril and inhale through your open left nostril. Before you exhale, open your right nostril and close your left nostril with your third and ring fingers. Exhale through your right nostril, then inhale through your right nostril. Continue this exercise by closing your right nostril and inhaling then exhaling through your left nostril.
Tactical Breathing is a strategy that soldiers are often taught to use in combat as a way of maintaining mental control in stressful situations. However, you don’t have to be in the military to apply this effective strategy to your own life. Simply focus on breathing in through your nose for four counts and then holding the breath for four counts. Breathe out of your mouth for four counts, and then again hold the breath for four counts.
Ujjayi Breath, or “victorious breathing,” is another yogic breathing practice that can help to reduce stress and increase relaxation. The practice is fun, too! Inhale deeply through your nose. As you exhale, allow yourself to make a rushing noise with your breath. The breath should feel unforced and not grating.
These breathing sessions can last for as long as you feel comfortable. You may like to start out slowly and gradually build up the length of time that you spend focusing on mindful breathing. Check out the rest of our website for many other ways to reduce stress through mindfulness practices, and feel free to contact us if you have any questions!
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Sean Fargo is the Founder of Mindfulness Exercises, a former Buddhist monk of 2 years, a trainer for the mindfulness program born at Google, an Integral Coach from New Ventures West, and an international mindfulness teacher trainer. He can be reached at [email protected]
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