Breathing Techniques for Stress Relief and Relaxation
Breathe in. Breathe out. Our bodies instinctively do this for us all the time. But how often do you take the time to mindfully breathe? It’s something we can all tend to overlook, but make no mistake, the power of breath is not something to ignore.
Mindful breathing has many benefits including reduced stress, increased awareness and concentration, and even increased creativity - and it has personally become a wonderful addition to my wellness journey.
I’ve been learning a lot about the practice of breathing, or pranayama, through my yoga teacher training at local Pittsburgh studio, the Om Lounge. Through my training, I’ve discovered that pranayama is one of my favorite tools to use both on and off the mat, and I want to share two amazing types of breath work for stress relief that I learned from the incredible women who lead my program, Suzanne Nagel and Amie DiTomasso.
These two types of pranayama are not only easy to get the hang of, but can be practiced just about anywhere! Whether you want to calm anxiety, wind down before bed, or just need a break during the workday, try practicing one (or both!) of the following breathing techniques:
[Note: All information listed for these two styles of pranayama is sourced directly from the Om Lounge Teacher Training Manual, written and led by Suzanne Nagel and Amie DiTomasso. This post is in no way sponsored by or affiliated with the Om Lounge.]
The dirga breath is a long, expanding style of breathing that is segmented into three parts of your body: your lower belly, your ribs, and your chest.
The science behind dirga breath’s montage of stress and anxiety reducing benefits is that it increases oxygen levels, decreases the production of stress hormones in the body, and aids in vital bodily functions such as blood pressure regulation, circulation, and digestion.
Here’s how to do it:
Get into a comfortable seated position
Rest your hands on your knees (palms face down = grounding, palms face up = energizing)
Close your eyes
Take a few regular breaths to situate yourself and get comfortable. Then, when you’re ready to begin, exhale all of the air out.
Take a deep breath in through your nose, first filling up your low belly, then letting the breath expand into your lower rib cage, and finally filling up all the way into your chest
Hold for a moment
Exhale through your nose in opposing order: chest, ribs, belly
Repeat (shoot for about 2-3 mins)
I love dirga breath because it’s very intentional and requires a good deal of focus. I’ve found it especially helpful during times that I need to bring my attention inward and tune out any outside worries/distractions. I’ve used dirga at my desk at work, before bed, and even at the doctor’s office during a small procedure to take my mind off of it.
Next up is my personal fave, nadi sodhana (“naw-dee show-dah-nah”), also referred to as alternate nostril breathing.
Nadi sodhana is another wonderfully intentional, stress-reducing breath that involves breathing through each nostril one at a time.
Nadi sodhana’s stress-reducing benefits are thanks to its ability to increase oxygen levels, decrease the body’s production of stress hormones, and lower the heart rate. It also increases focus, clears subtle body channels, and aids in blood pressure regulation, circulation, and digestion.
Here’s how to do it:
Get in a comfortable seated position
With your right hand, gently place your thumb on your right nostril, and your ring finger on your left nostril. Then, place your index and middle finger on your third eye’s center - the space right in between your eyebrows. (The pinky can just hang and do it’s own thing)
Rest your left hand on your knee
Close your eyes and take a few regular breaths
Exhale all of the air out
Gently close off your right nostril with your finger and inhale through the left nasal passage
Gently close off both nostrils and hold for a moment
Release the right nostril and exhale
Close and hold
Repeat (shoot for about 2-5 mins)
Few things in life are comparable to the feeling of coming out of a good nadi sodhana sesh. It’s like the feeling of sunshine on your face, a warm cup of tea, and a breath of fresh air all in one. Trust me, you want to try this one.
Ultimately, you can’t control what happens to you throughout your day, but you can control how you react to it. Next time you find yourself in need of a chill pill, try taking a few minutes to relax and de-stress with a dirga or nadi sodhana breath.
If you try one the above breathing techniques, or have another type of pranayama you love to practice, I’d love to hear from you! Let me know in the comment section below:)
Until next time,