Have you felt a little stressed lately? You’re in good company because recent statistics reveal that at least 44 percent of people in this country feel overwhelmed and stressed. No wonder statistics are also rising for stress-related issues like cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and some forms of cancer.
It’s no coincidence that when you feel like you’re stressed beyond your limit, you say that you need a “breather.” Taking time to breathe and focus your thoughts are behind the whole concept of mindful breathing. While your body breathes involuntarily, and you usually don’t think about it, conscious breathing makes you aware of each healing breath.
For centuries, many cultures worldwide have included breathing exercises into their sacred teachings, like yoga. Do you feel stressed, exhausted, and want a break from life? You can do some mindful breathing exercises that can help you ease tension and bring peace to your mind.
Your Body Under Stress
Think of the times when you’ve been stressed and how you breathed. When your body goes into survival mode, your diaphragm tightens, and your breaths are shallower as if they were only from your upper chest. Your brain signals your endocrine system to dump stress hormones into your bloodstream to get you ready for the fight, flight, or freeze.
The earliest humans used this primordial instinct to survive in a world filled with unknown dangers. Unfortunately, your brain doesn’t differentiate between big and small stress. When your body is chronically stressed, the surplus of adrenaline and cortisol can cause health issues.
1. Compassionate Breathing
Do you consider yourself a compassionate person? When others are hurting, are you one of the first to reach out in a loving, non-judgmental way? This mindful breathing exercise will teach you how to show that same compassion to yourself.
Go to a place where you can sit or lie down comfortably for a few minutes without interruption. Cross your arms gently over your chest as if you’re hugging yourself. Be mindful of your breathing and allow yourself to breathe normally.
Now, try to take deep breaths from your nostrils and slowly exhale through your mouth. As you breathe, fill your mind with loving and gracious thoughts about yourself. Talk to yourself as if you were encouraging your best friend. With each breath, feel grateful for who you’re at this moment. Do this breathing exercise 15-20 minutes each day.
2. Whole Self Breathing
Remember dancing the Hokey-Pokey as a child and the last part where you put your whole self in? This breathing awareness exercise teaches how to use your whole self to breathe and relaxing. It’s a wonderful way to wake yourself up in the mornings.
Begin by sitting in a cozy place where you won’t be disturbed. You can lie down or sit in a comfortable chair. Breathe normally, but try to inhale through your nose and exhale from your mouth. Allow your thoughts to go by like passing clouds. Acknowledge these thoughts, but you must let them go.
As you inhale, feel the oxygen reach into every organ, bone, and cell in your body. Feel it as it revitalizes and refreshes your spirit. Imagine your body expelling all the negative energy and other disharmonies that may be bottled up inside when you exhale. Try to do this for at least 15 minutes.
3. Belly Breathing
One of the hallmarks of panic and stress is rapid, shallow breathing. In survival mode, your body needs a burst of oxygen to power your muscles. When you’re calm and relaxed, you will notice that your breaths are evenly paced, deeper, and more toward your stomach. This belly breathing exercise can bring you the inner peace you need.
Find a comfortable place to lie on your back or lean back in a recliner. Close your eyes and put one hand over your heart and the other on your stomach. As you allow your body to relax, breathe naturally, and notice your breathing’s depth and rhythm. If you’re stressed, you will probably see that your breaths are more in your upper chest.
Allow the muscles in your tummy to soften and relax while your diaphragm moves, and your lungs will expand as you take in more air. Try to breathe more with your stomach and less with your chest. Do these deep belly breaths for 1-2 minutes, then gradually return to your normal breathing rate?
Notice that you will feel more tranquil after this breathing exercise. Practice it once or twice a day, or whenever you feel overwhelmed.
4. Three Breaths of Being
Sometimes, you have stressful situations and don’t have time to stop for a mindful breathing exercise. However, you can do this quick trick with three simple breaths. Try it the next time you’re on the spot, like getting ready to speak in public.
You can be sitting or standing to do this breathing exercise. First, take a few normal breaths to get your attention and start the calming effect. Now, take a deep breath through your nose and direct it toward your brain, asking it to bring order to your thoughts. Exhale slowly through your mouth and imagine it’s taking away mental stress and toxicity. This breath was for your mind.
The second breath of life is for your body. Again, inhale slowly through your nostrils and direct your breath to touch and nourish every fiber of your body, head to toe. Exhale again through your mouth while you imagine nervousness, sickness, and pain leaving your body.
As you inhale for the third time, you will be touching your spirit. Did you know that the Greek word pneuma means both breath and spirit? Inhale through your nose and imagine that this breath is connecting you to your inner being. Feel that connection with yourself and the divine.
Exhale slowly through your mouth and notice how relaxed you’re. It only takes a couple of minutes or so to do this exercise, but it can make a big difference. When you feel angry, taking three breaths can also calm your agitation so that you can think again.
5. Stress-Free Breaths
Do you feel overcome with stress and anxiety? You can meet stress head-on with this breathing awareness exercise. It can help relieve tension in your muscles so that you can relax.
Take a seat or lie in a comfortable place where nothing can bother you for a few minutes. Close your eyes and breathe normally. Notice anywhere in your body that is tense or hurting because of stress. Now, breathe in deeply through your nostrils and imagine that healing breath touching where you hurt.
As you hold the breath for a couple of seconds, start with your head and imagine your breath is a white light easing any tension or pain. Exhale slowly through your mouth and feel the muscles in your head relax.
Take another deep breath and focus on your neck and shoulders and imagine the white light touching them and making them smooth, calm, and relaxed. Exhale and repeat until you have relaxed your body from top to bottom.
6. The Tree of Life
If you’ve ever studied yoga, you know that it blends gentle movements with mindful breathing to bring your body, mind, and spirit into focus. When your whole being is centered, it’s easier to eliminate undue stress, anxiety, and depression.
This mindful breathing exercise requires you to stand. If bending your leg into the tree position is too difficult for you, feel free to stand with both feet spread apart a little. To begin, stand up straight and tall, and bring your palms together at your heart as if you’re praying.
Bend your left knee while bringing your left foot gently against the inside of your right knee. You can lower it a bit if it doesn’t feel comfortable. You should now be standing on one leg.
As you take in a deep breath through your nostrils, raise your arms straight above your head with your palms facing each other. Hold this position for 1-2 seconds feeling grounded and centered with the earth. Stretch your arms toward the heavens and receive strength and serenity.
Now, exhale slowly through your mouth, while bringing your hands back into the first position, folded at your chest. Hold this position for another 1-2 seconds and feel any stress or negativity leave your body and earth, where it will be neutralized.
The Tree of Life is a classic yoga pose that can not only help you breathe and relieve stress, but it can also help strengthen and tone your body. Try doing this mindful breathing exercise for 10-15 minutes a day. You can do it at home, at work, or anytime you need a mental break.
Do you think that you can include these mindful breathing exercises into your daily routine? They don’t take a lot of time, and you can do them whenever you’re stressed. Remember that peace and stress relief can be just one breath away.