Lady practising alternate nostril breathing

Breathing for National Stress Awareness Day

Breathing when you feel stressed might sound obvious, we breath all the time right!? But next time you feel stressed or anxious, pay attention to how you are breathing.

Our breathing pattern changes when we are feeling stressed, it tends to be shorter and shallower and more from the upper chest rather than using the diaphragm to move air in and out of the lungs. This shallow breathing activates the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for the body’s various reactions to stress.

Practising conscious breathing exercises throughout the day can help provide not only immediate relief, but when practised long term, can make you less prone to and better able to deal with stress and anxiety going forward.

There are many breathing techniques used to help calm and relax, so it is worth exploring a few to see what works best for you. Below we outline three of our favourites and give you step by step instructions so you can try them out for yourself.


Alternate Nostril Breathing

Alternate nostril breathing is also known as Nadi Shodhana pranayama in Sanskrit and is a great breathing practice for relaxation.

It has been shown to enhance cardiovascular function and lower the heart rate. It is best practised on an empty stomach. Try to keep the breath smooth and even throughout the practice.

Choose a comfortable seated position before you begin and then follow the steps below.

Step 1: Use your right hand and press your first and middle fingers to your forehead between your eyes and leave the other fingers extended.

Step 2: Exhale, then use your right thumb to gently close your right nostril.

Step 3: Inhale through your left nostril, then close your left nostril with your little and ring fingers.

Step 4: Release your thumb and exhale out through your right nostril.

Step 5: Inhale through your right nostril and then close this nostril.

Step 6: Release your fingers to open your left nostril and exhale through this side.

These steps complete one cycle. Repeat this cycle for 10 minutes. Finish your session with an exhale on the left side.


Box Breathing

The box breathing technique, also known as square breathing, is known for being a powerful stress reliever as well as helping to boost concentration.

To start, sit upright in a comfortable chair, with your feet flat on the floor. Sit up straight, with your hands in your lap, this posture will help you take deep breaths. When you’re ready to start, follow the instructions below:

Step 1: Slowly exhale through the mouth, have the intention of getting all the oxygen out of your lungs.

Step 2: Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose to a slow count of four, until your lungs are full, and you feel the air moving into your abdomen.

Step 3: Hold your breath for another slow count of four.

Step 4: Exhale through your mouth for the same slow count of four, expelling the air from your lungs and abdomen.

Step 5: Hold your breath for the same slow count of four.

That’s the full technique, once you have got the hang of it, set your timer for 10 minutes and do the technique from steps 1 to 5 and then repeat for as many times until your timer goes off.

Deep breathing can help to calm and regulate the autonomic nervous system which regulates involuntary body functions such as temperature. It can very quickly provide a sense of calm.

Holding the breath allows carbon dioxide to build up in the blood, which affects the vagus nerve when you exhale and stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system which promotes a calm and relaxed feeling in the body and mind.

Box breathing can be beneficial for anxiety, stress and depression. It can also be helpful in treating insomnia if you practice it last thing at night.


Belly Breathing

Belly breathing is simple to learn, easy to do and great for stress. Set your timer for 10 minutes and follow the instructions below:

Step 1: Sit or lie in a comfortable position.

Step 2: Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest.

Step 3: Take a deep breath in through your nose, let your belly push your hand out. Try not to move your chest.

Step 4: Breathe all the way out through pursed lips as if you were whistling. Feel the hand on your belly go in. Take your time with each breath.

Repeat these steps and continue until your timer goes off.


Let us know in the comments which is your favourite technique out of the three, and how you felt after the 10 minutes.


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