“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” - Thich Nhat Hanh
“Just breathe.” Simple, yet good advice.
But unfortunately, it’s not always easy to breathe. Sometimes, in moments of fear or anger, taking a breath can be difficult. But with a little bit of practice, you may find it becomes much easier—maybe even second nature—to slow down, breathe deeply, and relax when things become chaotic or stressful.
Today, we’ll be focusing on a few different ways you can begin your journey to mindful breathing.
As any practitioner of yoga knows, there are a lot of ways to breathe. Pranayama, or the control of your breath, is central to yoga. In fact, most yoga classes begin and end with a few minutes of breathing. This practice centers your thoughts and helps you focus.
So, with all of that being said, let’s dive in. Here are just a couple of my favorite breathing techniques:
The first technique is known as square, or box breathing. This method involves taking slow, deep breaths, and is especially useful for beginner’s meditation to help relieve unnecessary stress. Box breathing is a simple exercise that requires inhaling, holding your breath, exhaling, then holding again—all in even counts of four.
Here’s how to practice box breathing: Start by breathing out to clear your lungs. Once your lungs are cleared, breathe in for four counts and then hold your breath for four counts. Next, breathe out for four counts and then hold your breath for four counts. Repeat for up to 20 minutes. Remember to focus on the in and out as you breathe, following each breath from beginning to end.
This method is an excellent stress-reliever and can be done anywhere. If you’d like to read more about the benefits of box breathing, plus a more in-depth practice guide, click here!
Alternate Nostril Breathing
This one is a personal favorite of mine. I first learned about alternate nostril breathing in yoga, and find it to be one of the most relaxing breathing techniques. Highly summarized, this method involves gently covering one nostril with your finger, inhaling, holding the breath, then switching your finger to the other nostril as you exhale.
While alternate nostril breathing is incredibly easy, this breathing technique may not be your go-to method to practice in public.
In a nutshell, alternate nostril breathing helps you regain your mental balance and focus. It’s been shown to lower your stress levels and improve your cardiovascular function. If you’d like to learn more about the benefits and how-to, click the link here, or follow along with this video!
As you focus on your breathing, you’ll find that your shoulders will start to relax and your mind will begin to clear. You’ll also move out of the hunched protective position we often assume—usually unconsciously when we feel anxious or attacked—and move into an upright, confident stance.
I hope you enjoy these breathing techniques, and find which one works best for you. If you want to learn more about the powerful benefits of breathing and breathwork, check out this informative three-part article in Yoga Journal.
And remember, whenever you’re feeling anxious, depressed, angry, or fearful—just breathe.