By Minyette Burke & Melissa Frampton, Wellness Specialists at The Connection at Twin Towers.
As much as we all enjoy the holiday season, it can be a stressful time. And you’ve likely read about various ways to reduce stress. However, did you know there is one simple tactic everyone can do, anywhere, to help lower stress? Inhale. Exhale. You just did it.
Breathing, especially when using proper breathing techniques, can lower stress and improve your overall health.
How Proper Breathing Can Reduce Your Stress
When we breathe in, we bring everything around us inside our body; this includes toxins in the air and negative energy. Therefore, it is important to fully exhale to rid our body of these things, especially during the holiday season. The old adage “don’t hold your breath” truly can be detrimental to your health!
There are several types of breathing exercises you can do, with each eliciting a different response. Take the time to find the one you prefer and that works best for you. Not everyone will enjoy the same type of breathing exercises, but more importantly, anyone can do it and it can be practiced anywhere.
Three Breathing Exercises to Try
1. Diaphragmatic Breathing. This type of breathing quiets and calms the nervous system reducing stress and anxiety and improving self-awareness
Starting Position: Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place hands on low abdomen with fingers together.
1.Inhale, feel fingers separate and ribs expand sideways.
2.Exhale, fingers come back together as the abdomen contracts.
When breathing, you want to emphasize a deep diaphragmatic inhale, through the nose, the spine lengthens and it’s followed by a forced exhalation, through the mouth, while also engaging the deep abdominal muscles.
Repeat for 6-12 breaths.
Our Expert Tip: Notice the quality of your breath. Does the breath feel tense, strained, uneven, shallow? Simply observe the breath without any judgment. Then gradually begin to make your breathing as relaxed and smooth as possible, introducing a slight pause after each inhale and exhale.
2. The Cooling Breath (Sitkari Pranayama). This breathing exercise improves focus, pacifies excess heat in the system, and reduces agitation, anger and anxiety.
Starting Position: Sit comfortably, either in a chair or on the floor, with your shoulders relaxed and your spine naturally erect. Open the mouth slightly with your tongue just behind the teeth.
1. Inhale slowly through the space between the upper and lower teeth, letting the air wash over your tongue as you raise your chin toward the ceiling.
2. At the end of the inhalation, close the mouth and exhale through the nostrils as you slowly lower your chin back to neutral.
Repeat for 8 to 12 breaths.
This breath is often translated to the cooling breath because of the act of drawing the air across the tongue and into the mouth is said to have a cooling and calming effect on the nervous system. Try it twice a day or as needed during stressful times.
Our Expert Tip: This is especially helpful when you’re feeling drowsy in the morning or during an afternoon slump when you need to improve focus.
3. The Long Exhale. Use this breathing to reduce insomnia, sleep disturbances and anxiety.
Starting Position: Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart.
1. Place a palm on the abdomen and take a few relaxed breaths, feeling the abdomen expand on the inhalation and gently contract on the exhalation.
2. With your palm on your abdomen, mentally count the length of each inhalation and exhalation for several breaths, working to get your inhalation and exhalation to be equal.
3. Gradually increase the length of your exhalation by 1 to 2 seconds by gently contracting the abdomen. As long as the breath feels smooth and relaxed, continue to gradually increase the exhalation by 1 to 2 seconds once every few breaths.
Make sure you experience no strain as the exhalation increases and keep going until your exhalation is up to twice the length of the inhalation, but not beyond. For example, if your inhalation is comfortably 4 seconds, do not increase the length of your exhalation to more than 8 seconds. If your breath feels uncomfortable or short, or if you’re gasping on the next inhalation, back off to a ratio that is more comfortable.
Repeat for 8 to 12 breaths.
Our Expert Tip: This 1:2 breathing practice relaxes the nervous system. Try it before bedtime to help support sleep, in the middle of the night when you’re struggling with insomnia, or at any time of the day to calm stress or anxiety.
The fitness & wellness center at Twin Towers, The Connection, is where you will find an expertly trained team who develops workout routines and exercises that are personalized to your goals. A variety of classes are available and equipment is specifically designed for those aged 50+. The Aquatic Center includes a 75-foot heated pool, aquatic bikes, and a whirlpool.