Live a calmer, happier life with seven of these breathing techniques, inspired by one of the UK’s most renowned yoga teachers, Jean Hall, and her new book, Breathe, launched today
You would think that by now we would have mastered the art of breathing, because after all, breath is life. But we might actually want to reconsider what we think we know about breathing and take things back to the basics, says Jean Hall, one of the UK’s most inspiring yoga teachers, whose new book Breathe is out today.
Many people find that they aren’t able to breathe properly, resulting in their breath getting trapped and held, causing incredible amounts of built up tension in the mind and body.
It was with this knowledge that Hall was inspired to write Breathe, which provides easy-to-follow breathing techniques for a calmer, happier life.
The breath is a barometer to our internal state of being. It mirrors the mind.
‘I realised that by bringing awareness to the breath and allowing the breath to relax, that began the process of beginning to be able to relax both physically and mentally’, she tells Healthista.
‘The breath is a barometer to our internal state of being. It mirrors the mind. What we feel, the breath registers and responds to accordingly.’
It’s true that we do not give a second thought about the way we breathe and how it can affect every area of our life, from our physical and mental health to our emotional balance and well-being.
With Jean’s help, we’ve picked out some of the best and simple breathing techniques to help you tackle those normal day to day issues you may face.
If you’re feeling worried or anxious
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders in the UK. In 2013, there were over 8 million anxiety cases in the UK, with women being twice as likely to be diagnosed than men, according to Mental Health.
Although Jean suggests that most of the practices in Breathe can help aid anxiety, she recommends one in particular – the self soothing breath, as its gentle, rhythmic rolling motion helps to soothe the body and brainwaves, leaving you feeling less overwhelmed.
‘I think the self-soothing one is a really good one, because that actually involves the whole body, which I think really helps draw the attention away from the mental anxiety and helps people focus on their body and the movement of their body,’ she tells Healthista.
- Come to lie down on your back in a comfortable positon.
2. Bend your knees up towards your body and gently hug your legs, relaxing your feet and ankles. Soften and release your shoulders to the floor, relax your back and lower your chin to lengthen the back of your neck. Let your eyes close.
3. As you hug your legs to your body, bring attention to your breath. Notice its natural to rise and fall – your energy softly rising when you inhale and gently falling when you exhale. When you inhale, allow your belly and ribs to rise up towards your thighs, then sink back down when you exhale. Settle here for a few moments.
4. Slowly and gently roll your body a little to the right and then to the left, using the floor to massage your back. Keep the motion relaxed, soft and rhythmical.
5. Now begin to coordinate the rocking motion with your breath. As you inhale, gently roll to the right, and as you exhale, roll back to centre. Slowly inhale as you rock to the left, and exhale as you rock back to centre.
6. Continue rolling for 5-10 minutes, until you feel a quiet calm flowing through your body and mind. Take time to breathe and move slowly and smoothly.
For getting rid of negative emotion
Thinking negatively is not always a bad thing, in fact, the ability to remain positive 24/7 would probably be much harder than it initially sounds.
Negative thoughts can only become a problem when we begin to believe what we think or feel and allow that to affect our daily routine.
Therefore, we need to find a balance between negative emotion and positive emotion.
The Qigong practice is a gentle but powerful technique that can help you to release negativity and welcome positivity and, according to Hall, a great way to enter your mind to beat internal negative chitter chatter.
1. Stand and plant your feet into the ground, a little wider than hip-width apart, with your legs and feet parallel and your toes pointing forwards. Relax your belly and bring your arms by your sides.
2. On your next inhalation, breathe length into your spine and release your arms and shoulders down, with your palms turned up. Take a few steady breaths.
3.On the next inhalation, slowly raise your arms. Gather the negative thoughts, feelings, emotions and beliefs that are holding you back.
4.On the next exhalation, turn your palms down, lowering your arms in front of you and softly bending your knees. Consciously release these gathered feelings down and into the earth.
5.Repeat this two more times.
6.On your next inhalation, raise your arms and gather positive feelings, emotions and beliefs.
7.On your next exhalation, lower your arms and let those qualities flow in to you. Feel the sensation of these qualities deep in your core.
8.Repeat this three more times.
9.To close, breathe and stand quietly for a few moments.
If you’re feeling angry
Suppressing anger only leads to self-destruction. In fact, the NHS suggest that leaving anger unresolved can cause high blood pressure, anxiety and depression.
Learning how to control your anger with a simple breath release exercise can help you release pent-up emotions and tensions from your mind and body in a positive and unharmful way.
The ‘hissing’ and ‘haaing’ sounds that come with this exercise are a great way to direct your anger and frustration, according to Hall.
The ‘hissing’ and ‘haaing’ sounds that come with this exercise are a great way to direct your anger and frustration
- Come to lie down on your back in a comfortable position.
2. When you feel comfortable, close your eyes and settle. Become aware of your body and breath.
3. On your next inhalation, breathe in slowly and fully through your nose, filling your lungs from the bottom to the top. When you sense you are full, pause and retain the breath for a moment or two.
4. Slowly and completely exhale through your mouth, sighing your breath away and letting the weight of your body soften and release into the floor.
5.On your next inhalation, breathe in slowly and fully again, and pause. This time hold on to the breath for a little longer but do not strain.
6. Now relax and exhale through your mouth with a long steady haaaa sigh, releasing your tensions.
7. On your next inhalation, breathe in fully and deeply through your nose, feeling your belly rising, your lungs expanding and your chest opening.
8.Slowly and completely exhale through your mouth, sighing your breath away and letting the weight of your body melt to the ground, releasing any tension.
9. Repeat this three more times but instead of sighing out, softly purse your lips and blow out through your mouth as if you are blowing dust from the surface of your mind. Feel your body sink into the ground with each exhalation.
10. Repeat three more times and this time hissss out through your mouth like an angry snake, consciously breathing out any irritation, frustration or anger that you may be feeling.
11. Feel free to repeat any part of this practice a few more times to release any further tension.
12. Once you feel a sense of release through your body, heart and mind, let your breathing relax back to its natural and spontaneous flow.
If you’re having trouble sleeping
Struggling to grab a good nights sleep? Still waking up tired in the morning? The breathing to induce sleep exercise, which was pioneered by Andrew Weil, a doctor based in Arizona and inspired by yoga’s pranayama practice, is a breathing technique that can help to soothe the nervous system, inducing sleep within minutes.
Ensure that you are tucked up in your favourite pyjamas for this exercise as you could be dozing off before you know it.
1. Lying on your back, rest the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, on the ridge just behind your upper teeth.
2. Exhale completely and let your body relax and sink in to the bed.
3. Slowly inhale through your nose for 4 counts and then hold the breath for 7 counts.
4. On a count of 8, softly whoosh the breath out through your mouth, resting your tongue on the floor of your mouth.
5. Continue like this until sleep prevails.
For better concentration and focus
If you’re having trouble focusing your mind, thoughts and feelings, then the Viloma breathing exercise can be a great way to help you modulate and develop your concentration levels.
If you visualise a colour, that’s a great way to really harness one’s attention and concentration
‘You’re really focusing on guiding your breath and directing it in to areas of the lung and the sequential flow,’ says Hall. ‘If you visualise a colour, that’s a great way to really harness one’s attention and concentration,’ she adds.
- Come to lie down on your back in a comfortable position.
2. Place your hands on your belly, beneath the navel or alongside your body, palms facing up.
3. Close your eyes. Feel your whole body resting and softening in to the floor. Let your breathe settle in to a slow, rhythmic flow.
4. As you inhale, become aware of how your belly rises as the breath moves in to the lower part of your lungs and gently floods the upper part, as your chest rises. When you exhale, notice how the breath drains downwards, away from the upper and lower part of your lungs, as your belly sinks.
5. On your next inhalation, breathe only 50 percent in to the lower part of your lungs and pause. Feel how you are half-full and half empty.
6. Now, inhale the other 50 per cent in to the upper part of your lungs. Pause and feel how full you are.
7. Slowly and gently breathe out through your nose, releasing the breath completely. Steps 5-7 count as one complete round. Repeat another 2-4 rounds and then relax your breathing back to its natural flow.
8. On your next exhalation, breathe out just 50 percent from your upper lungs, feeling how you are half-full and half empty. Pause and then exhale the remaining 50 percent from your lower lungs until you are completely empty.
9. Repeat 2-4 times and relax, letting your breathing flow back in to its natural pattern.
After an argument
If things have come to blows with a partner, sibling or co worker, or if you are battling with some inner conflict, this balancing breath exercise can help you to return to the right mindset, as you are able to consciously guide your breath and cultivate a deep sense of equilibrium and calm within.
As Hall told us, this particular practice can create a sense of spaciousness, almost allowing you to go beyond the conflict.
- Lie down on the floor in a comfortable position.
2. Take time to settle, breathe softly and fully, relaxing into the natural flow of your breath.
3. As you breathe, sense the cool air entering your nostrils. Gently guide the breath equally in through the right and left nostril and evenly back out again. Take 5 more breaths, being aware of the flow of air through your nose on the inhalation and exhalation.
4. Now focus on balancing the length of your in and out breaths, letting them be easy, relaxed and equal.
5. Next, bring attention to balancing the strength of the in and out breaths, so that one is not more dominant than the other. Take a few breaths, levelling the length and strength of each inhalation and exhalation.
6. Now gently breathe evenly into the bottom and then the top of your lungs and back out again. Take a few more breaths, feeling the depth and height of your lungs.
7. Bring awareness to the sides of your torso, breathing evenly into the side of your lungs. Breathe in and out slowly and gently.
8. Widen your attention to the front and back of your body and breathe evenly into the front and back of your lungs. Breathe here, feeling the floor beneath you and the space above you.
9. Finally, cultivate an even smoothness at the beginning and ending of each inhalation and each exhalation.
10. Take a few more breaths here, enjoying the sense of balance and space in your body, mind and breath.
For when your heart is hurting
Experiencing a break up, trauma or just being left emotionally hurt can cause us to close off and disconnect from our feelings and emotions. The Anahata breathing technique helps to reopen and heal our hearts so that we are able to regain a sense of warmth and understanding.
1.Sit comfortably on a chair or cushion placed on the ground and feel your pelvis rooting to the ground. Softly lengthen up through your spine and gently ease your shoulders back and down to help open your chest.
2. Become aware of your breath and allow it to flow slowly and fully deep in to your body, softly expanding and opening as you inhale, and gently releasing and relaxing as you exhale.
3. As your breath becomes steady and easy, direct your awareness to your heart. Have a sense of it’s shape, weight and feeling. Breathe in to your heart and listen. Breathe out from your heart and soften. Take a few breaths here.
4. Now, with deepened awareness, send your breath to your heart and let it open and expand as you inhale. As you exhale allow your heart to soften and yield, letting the hard edges melt away and any hurt, pain, grudge or resentment to dissolve and release.
5. To enhance this practice, bring your hands into a Hridaya Mudra (heart gesture) by softly curling your index finger under your thumb, placing the tips of the middle and ring fingers on the tip of your thumb and extending your little finger. This directs the flow of energy from the hands to the heart, to open, unburden, fortify and strengthen its physical and emotional state.
Jean Hall is one of the UK’s most inspiring yoga teachers. She qualified in 1995 and continues to learn, explore and study different forms of yoga and movement systems.
As well as teaching open classes in London and being on the faculty of Triyoga’s teacher training programme, Jean also leads yoga masterclasses, workshops and retreats in the UK and abroad.
Jean Hall’s, Breathe: simple breathing techniques for a calmer, happier life, Quadrille, £7.99 is out today.