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3 Breathing Exercises to Reduce Stress


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Breathing is the most basic function of our body. It is automatically controlled by the brain, resulting in changes in its patterns and breathing rate when subjected to different scenarios and events. While it is an automatic function, breathing can still be controlled.

Breathing techniques are important in practicing yoga. It is also mentioned in the Patanjali Sutra as one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, called Pranayama. The term came from the Sanskrit word Prana which means breath or life force; and Ayama which means to stretch or extend. Pranayama means to control the life force or breath.

People often give out a long, audible breath or sigh during an uncomfortable or stressful situation. Studies even suggest that sighing helps the breathing pattern to return to normal when it is disturbed after experiencing anxiety or stress. But stress can be good and bad. In fact, it is a normal body response when dealing with challenging events. This response is commonly known as the “fight or flight response”.

The good stress is positive stressors that helps the body overcome situations, like completing a project close to the deadline, speaking or performing in front of a large crowd. In a way, it helps you get through those stressors. While bad stress can cause serious problems and can affect your body negatively.

Effects of Stress on the Body

The symptoms of stress can be seen physically and mentally. Physical symptoms of stress include stomach ache, headache, an increase in blood pressure, insomnia, and chest pain. While chronic stress can also lead to anxiety and depression. In some cases, stress can also trigger a person’s unhealthy behavior like drug abuse, social withdrawal, and eating problems. 

Common causes of stress:

  • School or Work
  • Health Concerns
  • Relationships (Marriage, friendship, etc.)
  • Money or Finance

3 breathing exercises for reducing stress

1. Sheetali Pranayama (Cooling Breath)

Sitali literally means cooling. This breathing technique reduces heat and lowers the temperature of the mind and body. The soothing breath from this technique is a good way to relax the muscles in the body and reduce stress. Aside from doing this when stressed, it can also be used during the summer or when feeling hot.

Other benefits: Improved focus, controls hunger, reduces bile, prevents heartburn, helps with anger, and improves bad breath.

How to do it:

  • Seat comfortably with a stretched spine in a room or quiet place.
  • Relax your whole body and close your eyes.
  • Curl your tongue to form a tube and if you are unable to roll your tongue, simply make an “O” shape with your mouth.
  • Inhale deeply through the mouth and let the air pass through your tongue.
  • After taking all the air that you can, touch the roof of the mouth with your tongue and close your mouth.
  • Exhale through the nose and repeat for at least 5 times.

Reminders: People with colds, asthma, and other respiratory problems should avoid this breathing technique.

2. Kapalabhati Pranayama (Skull-Shining Breath)

This breathing technique is derived from the Sanskrit words Kapala and Bhati which means skull and light. While it is an advanced yogic breathing technique, it is a very effective yogic breathing that helps rejuvenate and purify the mind and body. As a cleansing breath, it helps release toxins and let go of the negative emotions that cause stress.

Other benefits: Strengthens the abdominal muscle, improves digestion, enhances concentration, increases body temperature, promotes blood circulation, and clears the respiratory system.

How to do it:

  • Sit comfortably with a stretched spine.
  • If seated on a chair, make sure that both feet are flat on the ground.
  • Place both hands on the lower belly or flat on your knees.
  • Focus on your belly through each inhale and exhale.
  • Slowly take a deep breath through your nose, expanding your belly outwards.
  • Exhale powerfully through the nose, pushing the navel towards your spine.
  • Repeat the cycle for 8-10 times.

Reminders: Pregnant women and people with high blood pressure, heart problems, or stomach problems should not use this breathing technique. Slow down or stop if you feel dizzy.

3. Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

The alternate nostril breathing technique benefits the emotions, mind, and body. The Sanskrit term means “to clear the channels of circulation”. By clearing these channels, the balance needed by the mind and body is restored – pulling you back into your center. It is an effective breathing technique for calming the mind and releasing stress.

Other benefits: Improves focus and mental function, removes toxins, promotes respiratory and nervous system functions, improves sleep, regulates body temperature, and revitalizes the body.

How to do it:

  • Sit comfortably with an erect spine and open the chest.
  • Place your left palm on your lap and lift your right hand to your face.
  • Place your right pointer finger and middle finger between your eyebrows.
  • Close your eyes and relax.
  • Using your right thumb, close your right nostril and inhale through the left nostril.
  • Close both nostrils by using the ring finger and hold your breath for a quick pause.
  • Release your right nostril and exhale slowly.
  • Hold the breath for a quick pause before inhaling through the right nostril again.
  • Close both nostrils by using the ring finger and hold your breath for a quick pause.
  • Release your left nostril and exhale slowly.
  • Do this alternately and repeat for 5-10 times.

Reminders: People suffering from physical injuries, viral infections, hypertension, weak digestive system, slip disc, and lower back pain should avoid this breathing technique. Pregnant women and women in their menstrual cycle should not practice this as well.

Since breathing is a natural thing that we do, it is a very useful tool to create harmony and balance our lives. Focus on your breath once in a while and take a short break from the everyday stressors you encounter. Feel rejuvenated and gain clarity by breathing.


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About Anas Alaoui

Anas Alaoui

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