Feeling down in the dumps and not sure what to do about it? Try these five mood-boosting breathing exercises for whatever type of stress you’re feeling
Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. We breathe around 20,000 times a day and the way we breathe has a direct impact on the way we feel. Short, shallow breaths wreak havoc on the nervous system, setting alarm bells ringing and the body and mind believes it is under threat. Taking long, deep breaths sends positive messages to the brain that the body is relaxed, well and happy.
Luckily, armed with knowledge and practice, we can learn to consciously change our breathing to improve our mood, simply by shifting the way we breathe. We can go from sleepy to energized, from panicked to calm, from restless to feeling at ease with just a few minutes of conscious, deep diaphragmatic breathing.
Here are the top five, tried and tested, most effective breathing exercises to help you shift into a more positive state of mind.
From sleepy to energised‘: The Breath Booster
This is like a ‘double shot espresso’ to the system but without the jitters. It’s a super effective breath exercise great for boosting the circulation, detoxifying the body and helps balance the nervous system.
A super effective breath exercise great for boosting the circulation, detoxifying the body and helps balance the nervous system.
One warning though, you shouldn’t practice this breath-work if you’re pregnant or you’re menstruating and have pmt cramps.
First, sit comfortably, either in a chair or cross-legged and allow the spine to be tall, shoulders relaxed and face soft. This breath is in through the nose, out through the nose.
As you breathe in, you want the belly to rise like a balloon. The exhale is really active and has a good whoosh sound to it and the belly should draw back to the spine with a little speed and effort. The rhythm is similar to a steam train gaining speed with a continuous flow to the breath.
Start with one breath per second and continue for 10 breaths. Rest and then repeat. The effort and emphasis should always be on the exhalation and allow the inhale to arrive naturally after the exhale.
The effort and emphasis should always be on the exhalation
You can also bring the arms into play to really boost the energies in the system. Raise the arms up over the head. Stretch the fingers to the sky and on the exhalation bring the elbows into the ribcage with a little gusto. This will really help liven up the whole respiratory system.
According to The American Institute of Stress, abdominal breathing for 20 minutes each day will reduce anxiety and reduce stress.
‘Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness. Breathing techniques help you feel connected to your body, bringing your awareness away from the worries in your head and quiets your mind.’
From uptight to alright: Breath Deskercise
This is a great one to practice at the desk, midway through your working day.
Sit comfortably in your chair rest your hands on your thighs and allow the spine to be tall (it sometimes helps to take the spine a little away from the support of your chair).
To help release tension in the respiratory muscles in the shoulders and upper back: take a deep and slow inhalation through the nose and raise the shoulders to the ears. Exhale and let the shoulders go.
Repeat 5-10 times and then rotate the shoulders slowly in a backward direction. Be mindful of how you sit at your desk. Make sure the shoulder blades are drawn down your back, the chest is lifted and allow space between the pelvis and the rib cage. A good posture can help you breathe easier.
A good posture can help you breathe easier.
From wired to tired: Sleep Deep 4-3-6 Breath
After a full on day, the system can often feel wired and winding down seems to be the last thing on the list. The breath can act as a perfect bridge from feeling in a heady state to connecting with a more peaceful state of mind.
If comfortable, lie in bed on your belly, head to one side (one pillow, so not to crick the neck too much) and make sure the jaw is relaxed (allow there to be a small space between the upper and lower teeth).
Hands either side of the hips, to allow the shoulders to unwind and make sure the fingers are relaxed too. Close the eyes. Using a diaphragmatic breath whereby the belly rises on the inhalation – you should feel the belly create a dome shape, descending toward the mattress, breathe in through the nose for a count of four.
Hold the breath for a count of three. Exhale through the mouth for a count of six. Repeat this for 5 -10 rounds and notice how the body relaxes on the exhalation.
On each exhale imagine ‘letting go’ of the day. This should prepare you for a deep sleep.
You can download the ‘sonic breath’ series at www.inspirationspace.co.uk to practice this breath counting technique.
From panic to zen: the Good Calmer
This is great breath work to help induce feelings of calm. It’s helped people overcome panic attacks and relaxed those who are stressed. Make sure you have practiced deep belly breathing above before starting this breath work:
Begin with an exhale and then slowly fill your lungs with an inhale from the bottom to the top. Inflate your cheeks and purse your lips, as if blowing out through a straw, as you exhale through the mouth. Exhale for a count of 10 (repeating in your mind one to one thousand, two – two thousand and so on.)
Begin again with a slow deep inhale through the nose and then exhale through the mouth.
Repeat between three to five minutes or until you are feeling calm. This is great for anyone suffering from anxiety or mild panic attacks.
By focusing on the count you help keep your mind off of anxious and fearful thoughts.
By pursing your lips and inflating your cheeks you create pressure on the vagus nerve in the back of your throat, which controls many of anxiety’s tell-tale symptoms such as sweating, racing heart, and nausea. By focusing on the count you help keep your mind off of anxious and fearful thoughts.
From strive to thrive: the Transformational Breath
Transformational breath is one of the world’s most cutting edge breath-work techniques, which has helped people reach their full potential, from those wishing to simply improve their respiratory system to those wanting to reach higher states of consciousness.
Here’s a little taster you can practice on your own. Prop yourself up on the bed at a semi-reclined angle so your chest is higher than your legs. Make sure you are warm and comfortable, and that your head and neck are properly supported. Have your hands on your lower abdomen – a few inches below the navel. Relax the jaw and open the mouth wide, but not strained, and take a deep inhalation, belly should rise like a balloon, and exhale with a quick sigh.
Keep all your focus on the inhalation. Inhalation should be about twice as long as the exhalation. Exhalation should be a quiet and relaxed. Keep the breath connected, so no pauses between breaths.
Repeat this conscious connected breath from between two and five minutes (but no more without a breath coach) and notice any physical sensations in the body. Rest for one minute as you return to a normal breathing pattern – breathing through the nose.
Aimee Hartley is certified breath coach and co-founder of Inspiration Space www.inspirationspace.co.uk and founder of The Breathing Room. She studied and qualified as a Transformational Breath Facilitator and Workshop leader with Dr Judith Kravitz, Founder of Transformational Breath Foundation. She has recently launched downloadable breath audios for those wishing to start a breath practice www.inspirationspace.co.uk/breathingclasses. She has written for Yoga Magazine, Green Parent, Healthy Magazine and appeared on Yogaia the online yoga channel offering live classes.