6 Breathing Exercises to Relax in 10 Minutes or Less

Overworked, underslept and feeling the pressure? There are plenty of ways to find calm, without investing in a four-hand spa massage. All you need is a pair of lungs, your breath and 10 minutes or less.

Don’t wait until fight or flight kicks in before minding your breath. Controlled breathing not only keeps the mind and body functioning at their best, it can also lower blood pressure, promote feelings of calm and relaxation and help us de-stress.

Many experts encourage using the breath as a means of increasing awareness, mindfulness or, for the yogis among us, finding that elusive state of Zen. But breathing easy isn’t quite as easy as it sounds. From the confines of a bed, a desk or anyplace where negativity finds its way, consider these six breathing techniques to help keep calm and carry on.

1. Sama Vritti or “Equal Breathing”

How it’s done: Balance can do a body good, beginning with the breath. To start, inhale for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four — all through the nose, which adds a natural resistance to the breath. Got the basic pranayama down? More advanced yogis can aim for 6 to 8 counts per breath (some going as a high as 20) with the same goal in mind: calm the nervous system, increase focus and reduce stress.

When it works best: Anytime, anyplace — but this is one technique that’s especially effective before bed. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, this breath can help take your mind off the racing thoughts, or whatever might be distracting you from sleep.”

Level of difficulty: Beginner

2. Abdominal Breathing Technique

How it’s done: With one hand on the chest and the other on the belly, take a deep breath in through the nose, ensuring the diaphragm (not the chest) inflates with enough air to create a stretch in the lungs. The goal: 4 to 6 deep, slow breaths per minute for 10 minutes each day to experience immediate reductions to heart rate and blood pressure. Keep at it for 6 to 8 weeks, and those benefits will be long felt.

When it works best: Before an exam or any stressful event. But keep in mind, those who operate in a stressed state all the time might be a little shocked at how hard it is to control the breath. To help train the breath, consider biofeedback tools such as Wim Hofs’ WHM app, which can help users pace their breathing wherever they are.

Level of difficulty: Beginner

3. Nadi Shodhana or “Alternate Nostril Breathing”

How it’s done: A yogi’s best friend, this breath is said to bring calm and balance, and unite the right and left sides of the brain. Starting in a comfortable meditative pose, hold the right thumb over the right nostril and inhale deeply through the left nostril. At the peak of inhalation, close off the left nostril with the ring finger, then exhale through the right nostril.

Inhale through right, close and exhale through left. Inhale through left, close and exhale through right. Continue the pattern.

When it works best: Crunch time, or whenever it’s time to focus or energize. Just don’t try this one before bed: Nadi shodhana is said to “clear the channels” and make people feel more awake. “It’s almost like a cup of coffee.”

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

4. Kapalabhati or “Skull Shining Breath”

How it’s done: Ready to brighten up your day from the inside out? This one begins with a normal breath, at the end of your exhale, inhale fully and forcefully, sticking your belly out (like inflating a balloon quickly). Then you are going to suck the belly in hard and force the air out your nose. Your body will automatically reinflate itself. Keep snapping your diaphragm in forcing the breath out. Do this until you lose the rhythm.

DO NOT FORCE THIS BREATH!

If it feels wrong, stop and start again.

This is difficult to master and takes a lot of practice and patience.

To begin, start with long, slow inhale, followed by a quick, powerful exhale generated from the lower belly. Once comfortable with the contraction, up the pace to one inhale-exhale (all through the nose) every one to two seconds, for a total of 10 breaths.

When it works best: When it’s time to wake up, warm-up or start looking on the brighter side of things. It’s pretty abdominal-intensive but it will warm up the body, shake off stale energy and wake up the brain. If alternate nostril breathing is like coffee, consider this a shot of tequila.

Level of difficulty: Advanced

5. Progressive Relaxation

How it’s done: To nix tension from head to toe, close the eyes and focus on tensing and relaxing each muscle group for two to three seconds each. Start with the feet and toes, then move up to the knees, thighs, rear, chest, arms, hands, neck, jaw and eyes — all while maintaining deep, slow breaths. Having trouble staying on track? Breathe in through the nose, hold for a count of five while the muscles tense, then breathe out through the mouth on release.

When it works best: At home, at a desk or even on the road. One word of caution: Dizziness is never the goal. If holding the breath ever feels uncomfortable, tone it down to just a few seconds at most.

Level of difficulty: Beginner

6. Guided Visualization

How it’s done: Head straight for that “happy place,” no questions asked. With a coach, therapist or helpful recording as your guide, breathe deeply while focusing on pleasant, positive images to replace any negative thoughts. This is just one means of achieving mindfulness. Guided visualization helps puts you in the place you want to be, rather than letting your mind go to the internal dialogue that is stressful.

When it works best: Pretty much any place you can safely close your eyes and let go.

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

While stress, frustration, and other daily setbacks will always be there, the good news is, so will our breath.

Watch my breathwork video here

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCB8r3zSKgc5MEoaiH1x0U4Q

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