There’s one age-old wellness tool that’s often underestimated, but when leveraged, can change your whole mindset in a matter of seconds. Even better—you already have this tool at your disposal.
It’s your breath.
The concept may sound basic, but therein lies the beauty of breathwork. “When we feel stressed, we often ‘forget’ to breathe,” says meQuilibrium Director of Content, certified Integrative Health Coach, and yoga teacher Alanna Fincke. “More accurately, our muscles tense up, which makes our breathing shallower, constricting oxygen flow and making it hard to perform at our best.”
Breathwork is a return to your body’s most instinctive stress-reducing response. It’s a practice that’s been trusted for centuries, and for good reason: Studies show that certain breathing techniques can reduce anxiety, depression, insomnia, and more.
It’s easy to do, and you carry it with you wherever you go. Here are three powerful breathing techniques to try this week. Fincke recommends starting with just a few minutes a day and gradually increasing the time if the practice works for you.
1. For Calm: 4-7-8 Breathing
When you’re stressed or anxious, your diaphragm is typically the first muscle to tense up, which makes you hold onto your breath. Studies have found that the exact counts of this 4-7-8 practice reduce anxiety and stimulate your brain’s relaxation response by lengthening your exhales to release tension.
- Inhale through your nose for a count of 4.
- Hold for a count of 7.
- Exhale through the mouth for a count of 8.
The held breath is the most important part. Repeat until you feel relaxed and restored.
Tip: This technique works well just before bed.
2. For Focus: Imagery
Visualization is a powerful practice. Studies in sports psychology show that when you imagine the results you want to achieve, your body physically prepares to move in the direction of your goal.
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
- Bring your awareness to your breath, without trying to change it.
- Place one hand on your belly, feeling the rise and fall of each inhale and exhale.
- Start to bring attention to your goal. Picture yourself getting closer to your goal with each inhale: What will it look, feel, and sound like when you achieve this goal? Feel this vision wash over your body in waves of focused potential.
- With each exhale, release anything that doesn’t serve your goal, such as stress, worry, and self-doubt.
Tip: You may want to repeat a mantra or single word as you do this practice, i.e. “Inhale calm, exhale fear.”
3. For Energy: Lion’s Breath
Breath can be used as a tool to generate heat or “fire” in the body. If you find yourself tired or holding onto stale energy, lion’s breath, or “simhasana,” as it’s referred to in Sanskrit, can help you reset and refresh.
- Find a comfortable seated position on the floor. You can sit resting your buttocks on your heels or with your legs crossed.
- Press your palms against your knees with your fingers spread wide.
- Inhale deeply through your nose with your eyes open wide. While you do this, open your mouth wide and stick your tongue out and down towards your chin.
- Exhale through your mouth with a loud “ha” noise.
- Repeat 2-3 times.
Tip: We recommend practicing this when you first wake up to build heat and energy as you start your day.
Note: Discontinue any practice that leads to physical discomfort or agitation.