Breathing is one of the most important yet often overlooked aspects of our physical and mental health.
We do it our entire lives and rarely give it any conscious attention, yet it is the foundation of our well-being and plays a crucial role in maintaining our overall health and vitality.
Whether you’re looking to improve your athletic performance, reduce stress and anxiety, or simply maintain a healthy lifestyle, incorporating breathwork into your daily routine can be a highly effective way to achieve your health and fitness goals.
Here are 4 breathing techniques you can easily practice at any time to help you feel better, perform better, and live a healthier life.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a type of breath work that focuses on using your diaphragm (the muscle directly underneath your lungs) rather than your chest to control your breath.
When your breath is high up in your chest, this activates your sympathetic nervous system—the system of energized, fight-or-flight, ready-for-action responses. This will tend to raise your heart rate and blood pressure, as well as increase feelings of stress and anxiety.
But when you breathe slow and low in your belly, you activate your parasympathetic nervous system—the system of “rest and digest”.
This will cause you to calm down and relax, and it will be very helpful when you are feeling stressed, nervous, or anxious. Practice it frequently so that you can quickly shift your breathing pattern when you need to.
Box breathing is a type of breath work that involves intermittently holding your breath for a few seconds.
It’s referred to as a “box” because there are four steps, each lasting for the same length of time.
Throughout this exercise, you will repeatedly count seconds in your head up to four—1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on.
- Inhale for 4 seconds.
- Hold this inhaled breath for 4 seconds.
- Exhale for 4 seconds.
- Pause for 4 seconds before inhaling again.
Repeat for several minutes, or as needed.
There are other variations of box breathing and intermittent breath retention, but this basic technique is an excellent starting point.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate nostril breathing is a type of yoga breathing technique that is said to balance the right and left hemispheres of the brain and help to reduce anxiety, improve focus, and calm the mind.
The name of this technique is fairly self-explanatory—you breathe through one nostril, and then you breathe through the other, alternating back and forth.
- Gently press your finger on the side of your right nostril to close it shut.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your left nostril.
- Close off your left nostril as you release your right nostril.
- Exhale slowly through your right nostril.
- Inhale through your right nostril.
- Switch to closing off your right nostril again.
- Exhale through your left nostril.
- Repeat for several minutes, switching nostrils after each inhalation.
After some practice, you can also try mixing this exercise with the box breathing technique.
Lion’s Breath, or “Simhasana” in Sanskrit, is a type of breathwork that involves making an audible, forceful exhale through the mouth.
- Take a deep inhale through your nose.
- Exhale through your mouth while sticking out your tongue and making a “ha” sound.
- Repeat several times, focusing on the exhale and making the “ha” sound as loud and powerful as you can.
Lion’s Breath is a great way to release tension and clear your mind, making it a great technique to practice when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
If you experience any discomfort, dizziness, headaches, or other physical symptoms during any of these breathwork exercises, stop the exercise immediately and return to a normal, uncontrolled breathing rhythm.