Breathing Exercises to regulate the nervous system

Mind and Body, News, Yoga Therapy

Breathing Exercises – to de-stress and regulate the nervous system Controlled breathing keeps your mind and body functioning at their best, it can lower blood pressure, promote feelings of calm and relaxation, and help you de-stress. Many experts encourage using the breath as a means of increasing awareness, mindfulness, and being present in your body. […]

Breathing Exercises – to de-stress and regulate the nervous system

Controlled breathing keeps your mind and body functioning at their best, it can lower blood pressure, promote feelings of calm and relaxation, and help you de-stress. Many experts encourage using the breath as a means of increasing awareness, mindfulness, and being present in your body. Many of us spend too long in our heads thinking and forget about the body.

Deep breathing, such as the Abdominal Breathing Technique, helps to strengthen lung function by using the diaphragm. Breathing through the nose, rather than the mouth, helps to calm the nervous system and strengthen the diaphragm.

For those of us who have been diagnosed with Covid-19, and even those of us who haven’t yet need some breathing exercise tips, consider these six techniques to help keep calm and carry on.

1. Equal Breathing 

Try this round; breathe in for 4 secs out for 4 secs, in for 5secs out for 5 secs…. and so on up to 8 secs; repeat.                        

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

Level of difficulty: Beginner

  1. 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 lower ribs. Both hands move in and out in unison. The shoulders stay relaxed, the air is moving down to the lower lungs. The goal: Six to 10 deep, slow breaths per minute (in for a count 4-5 and out for a count of 4-5) for 10 minutes each day to experience immediate reductions to heart rate and blood pressure. Try it. Keep at it for six to eight weeks for more sustainable benefits. 

When it works best: Before any stressful event. But keep in mind, those who operate in a stressed state all the time might be surprised how hard it is to control the breath. Try short sessions, returning to your normal breath as you need to. Practice makes it easier.

Level of difficulty: Beginner

  1. Progressive Relaxation

To ease 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, glutes, chest, arms, hands, neck, jaw, and eyes—all while maintaining deep, slow breaths. If you are having trouble staying on track, try breathing in through the nose, hold for a count of five while the muscles tense, then breathe out through the mouth slowly on release. Keep the exhalation at least as long as the inhalation.

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.

Level of difficulty: Beginner

  1. Nadi Shodhana or “Alternate Nostril Breathing”

How it’s done: This breath is said to bring calm and balance 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. Hold the left thumb over the left nostril and inhale deeply through the right nostril. At the peak of inhalation, close off the right nostril with the ring finger, then exhale through the left nostril. This is one round.  Continue the pattern.

When it works best: In the morning before meditation, or anytime you need 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.

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

5. Guided Visualization

How it’s done: Head for your 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. 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 (e.g. not at the wheel of a car).

Level of difficulty: Intermediate.

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

Information in this article was compiled from multiple sources.

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