How to Fix Your Breathing to Mitigate Stress

Letting go of stress is as easy as breathing. Don't believe us? Try it

Young woman doing pranayama or breathing exercises

Stressors come in different shapes and sizes. They range from big ones like a financial crisis, a divorce or bereavement to the nagging low-intensity ones such as contending with a colleague whose breath smells. Or, even being stuck in bad traffic and needing to make that urgent call just when your cell phone battery dies out.

Stress is what you make of it. In other words, how stressed you get is in your control, though you may not like to believe it. One of the ways to shrink your stress is through pranayama or yogic breathing. I invite you to try these simple, but powerful, breathing techniques to help you mitigate stress.

Breathing Exercises to Mitigate Stress

Conscious Breathing

Sit still in a comfortable position. Keep your spine erect, shoulders drawn behind [you may keep the back supported if you like]. Close your eyes. Breath in deeply, slowly and rhythmically, keeping your attention on the air entering your nostrils. Exhale even more slowly. Count to three as you inhale and five as you exhale. Aim to increase your exhalation time. While breathing, observe the minor changes in the temperature of the air you inhale and exhale—you will notice that the air that enters is cooler, while the one that exits feels warmer. Also, observe the rising and falling of your shoulders as you breathe. Do this for 10 – 15 breaths. This simple activity is an instant stress buster.

While breathing, you could also place your hands over the diaphragm [the area that separates the chest from the abdomen] with the middle fingers touching each other. As you inhale, feel your chest expanding when the air enters your lungs. Your fingers will move about half an inch apart when the chest expands.

Abdominal Breathing

Assume a comfortable position; you can even lie down. Place your palms gently on the abdomen over the navel. As you inhale, allow your abdomen to relax and expand. Your palms will be pushed away from the body as the abdominal wall moves forward. Then, as you exhale, contract and gently draw the abdominal wall inwards. At first, it might seem confusing because we are habituated to expanding the chest and the diaphragm as we breathe in. Inhale and exhale slowly and deeply. Once you master the technique, count to three as you inhale and five as you exhale. Again, aim at extending the exhalation time—ideally it should be twice the time you take for inhalation.

Single Nostril Breathing

Few people know that though we have two nostrils, we predominantly use just one to breathe. As per yogic philosophy, the right nostril signifies the sun or the heating system of our body and the left nostril signifies the moon or the cooling system. Practicing single nostril breathing helps bring an awareness of which side of your body is dominant and also to bring balance between the right and the left side.

Sit in a comfortable position, keep only the thumb and index finger of the left hand straight and curl the other fingers in. Place the thumb gently on the left nostril and inhale through the right nostril. Now, with the index finger, close the right nostril and exhale through the left. This is right nostril breathing. Repeat this five times. Then do the same with your left nostril.

Chanting with Breathing

Focusing your attention on the breath helps to instantly calm the mind and relieve stress. But keeping your mind from wandering is easier said than done. That’s where chanting helps. While doing conscious breathing, begin to chant ‘let go, let go, let go’. As you chant, you’re literally letting go of pent up tensions and anxieties. You don’t have to speak the words out aloud, just repeat them silently in your mind. You could also chant Aum, So-Hum, or any other chant that you like.

Related » Morning Mantras (Chants) to Awaken the Power Within

Visualization with Breathing

Visualization too helps rein in the wandering mind. The best time to do them is while you’re lying on your bed just preparing to drift off to sleep. Lie on your back with the hands by your side and eyes gently closed. Begin with breathing consciously, taking care to keep the inhalation and exhalation soft and effortless—no deep breathing. Start to consciously relax your body, beginning from your toes, gradually working your way up. Suggest every part of your body to relax. Imagine that your body is weightless and floating in the air or that you’re lying on a beautiful beach with the waves gently clashing on the shore in the background. You could use music to help you with this imagination. Try this with a partner if possible. Each of you could take turns to guide the other into a state of relaxation.

Fix Your Breathing

When we are experiencing stress, the muscles of the neck and shoulders get tensed and breathing becomes shallow and rapid. For a majority of us, this becomes a habit and we continue to breathe incorrectly, even when we are not stressed. Simply learning to breathe the right way can help us handle stress better, reduce anxiety, improve sleep and normalize blood pressure. Our breath [pran in Sanskrit] is our life force. Harnessing its powers can help us restore health and vitality. As the yoga guru Krishnamacharya once said: “Inhale, and God approaches you. Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you. Exhale, and you approach God. Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God.”

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Grazilia Almeida-Khatri
Trained as a physician, Dr Grazilia Almeida-Khatri is a wellness coach and consultant. She endorses yoga as a way of life and conducts wellness and yoga retreats for individuals and corporates. She is also trained in Pilates by Michael King, who is based in the UK. Dr Grazilia is a practitioner of the Body Mirror System of healing as taught by Sir Martin Brofman. She lives in Pune, India and offers consultations in person and online.


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