Winter is traditionally a time for hibernating, a time to withdraw from the world, rest and recharge our batteries. But when all facets of our world are locked down under one roof with us, it may seem like rest and relaxation are luxuries we simply can’t afford right now. This doesn’t have to be the case though. If our own care falls off the bottom of our endless to-do lists for too long, we quickly discover we have nothing left in our cup to pour out to those around us. To stand a chance amidst the fear and stress of pandemic life, we need to learn where our energetic mains sockets is located and how to give ourselves the time, attention and love we need to recharge.
Deborah Adele points out in her brilliant book The Yamas and Niyamas:
‘We would never purchase a can of red paint and expect it to be blue when we apply it to our walls. And yet we can be so harsh and demanding with ourselves and then expect to be loving with others. It doesn’t work that way’
As the airlines like to remind us before take off, ‘if you are traveling with…someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person’. Quite simply, we can’t help others if we don’t help ourselves first.
But how do we take care of ourselves when it feels like we sometimes can’t even go to the toilet without a million different voices clamoring hungrily for our attention and making demands on our time?
Whilst nothing I write here can stop your wifi from crashing at a crucial moment or your children from spontaneously redecorating the living room with wax crayons and gummy bears, what I can offer are some simple yet powerfully effective breathing techniques to help you recharge and reset your frazzled brain on a time budget.
So before you consider faking your own death or running away to join Kibbutz for a moments peace, see if you can find 15minutes amidst your hectic schedule (lock yourself in the toilet if you have to) to try some of the exercises below.
I wish you the best of luck and hope they give you the extra boost you need to return gallantly to the chaos with a renewed sense of peace and perspective.
3 stress busting breathing exercises to help you rest and reset
The breath provides an important bridge between the conscious and unconscious mind and is a very powerful tool for regulating difficult feelings and emotions that may seem outside of our control. The breath can be both conscious and automatic, in our control and outside of it and working with the breath can bring us into a deeper connection with the more subtle systems of our bodies, most notably the respiratory and nervous systems.
We can use the breath to both revive and relax our bodies, reduce stress and fear, gain more control and awareness of our minds and achieve a greater sense of balance and wellbeing in our bodies.
- Full yoga breath.
Most people only use the top part of the lungs to breathe. By using the lungs fully, with focused, rhythmic movements, full yoga breath fills the body with a larger quantity of oxygen for each breath, benefiting systems throughout the whole body. These can include:
- Reduced stress
- Lowered blood pressure
- Improved digestive function
- More energy
- Increased concentration
- Clarity of thought
- Assistance with meditation practices
Full yoga breath can be done anywhere, from sitting on the sofa to waiting at the bus stop. If you’ve got time to breathe, you’ve got time to do a full yoga breath.
How to practice full yoga breath
In full yoga breath, we imagine dividing the inhalation and exhalation up into three parts, whilst also keeping the breath steady, smooth and regular. Both inhale and exhalation should be done through the nose.
Step 1. Diaphragmatic Breath
The lower lungs expand by contracting the diaphragm, causing the abdomen to expand and the stomach to move outwards
Step 2. Thoracic Breath
The intercostal muscles expand the rib cage and allow the breath to fill the middle part of the lungs, whilst the stomach and abdomen remains extended.
Step 3. Clavicular Breath
The collarbones lift to fill the top most part of the lungs.
Step 1. Clavicular Breath
The collarbones fall to empty the top part of the lungs.
Step 2. Thoracic Breath
The intercostal muscles contract, causing the rib cage to move inwards and downwards to empty the middle parts of the lungs.
Step 3. Diaphragmatic Breath
The lower lungs empty out the last of the breath, the diaphragm lifts, the abdominal muscles squeeze back towards the spine and the stomach moves in.
- NADI SHODANA – Alternate nostril breathing
Pranayama, is a yogic practice that utilizes the breathing to influence the flow of prana (or vital energy/life force) in the body.
Nadi Shodana is a wonderfully harmonizing pranayama that can be used to create balance in the mind and body. It is great for reducing anxiety, inducing states of calm, focusing the mind and preparing for meditation.
Written down it may sound very complicated, but don’t be put off, in practice it is more simple than it sounds and you’ll quickly get the hang of this nimble, nasal finger dance.
How to practice Nadi Shodana.
- Come to a comfortable seated position.
- Using the right hand, place the thumb next to the right nostril and cover the left nostril with the ring and pinky finger. (The index and middle finger can rest on the middle of the forehead or tuck in if you prefer).
- Locking the right nostril with the thumb, breath in steadily through the left nostril.
- Swap the fingers so you are now locking the left nostril with the pinky and ring fingers.
- Exhale through the right nostril.
- Keeping the hand in the same position, inhale through the right nostril.
- Swap the fingers back and exhale through the left nostril.
- Repeat for several more rounds, beginning and end each round through the left nostril.
3. SAMA VRITTI – Square breath.
This is a very calming breath and is very effective for anyone who is seeking to feel more grounded, balanced and calm. It can be used with children or those who are in hyper agitated states, to help them calm down and is a great way to settle an over-active mind if you’re struggling to get to sleep. Square breath can also help greatly with feelings of fear and anxiety, slowing the heart rate down and reminding the body that it’s safe.
If you are already feeling dull, sluggish or slow, or if you need to be alert or awake for something (like driving a truck), this is perhaps not the pranayama for you right now, however it is perfect for anyone needing to slow down a fizzy brain, relax and reset after a stressful day, before bed or in preparation for meditation.
How to practice square breathing
- Sitting upright with eyes closed, inhale evenly through the nose for 3 counts.
- Gently hold the inhale for 3 counts
- Exhale steadily and evenly through the nose for 3 counts
- Gently hold the exhale out for 3 counts.
Try to make sure the breath is as even as possible for each part of the inhale/exhale, so that the same about of air is entering/leaving during count 1 as count 3 and there is absolutely no tension.
Gradually increase the number you are counting towards, building up slowly and observing the comfort of the held exhale as a guide.