Calming Breathwork Exercises

by Mary - Cameron Seniors Friday Yoga Instructor

Each breath you take has the incredible potential to calm, relax and to bring balance to your body and mind.

Breathing smoothly, rhythmically triggers your parasympathetic nervous system - this is the opposite of when you are stressed or in fight, flight, freeze mode. It can allow you to shift into rest and restore mode: calming your racing heart, decreasing your blood pressure and re-establishing your digestive system.

Lets start by choosing a comfortable position.

You can sit on the floor or on a chair.  You can lay down on the floor or a bed.

Start by just noticing your breathing.

Then ask yourself where in your body do you feel the breathing? Is it the upper chest? The upper chest is where most people breathe. Chest breathing creates a shallow breath. Below are some options you can practice to create a little deeper breath (and remember only do what feels right & go slowly).

Place your two hands comfortably on your belly. As you exhale gently draw your belly in - and as you inhale let the belly softly expand in your hands. Pay attention to the movment of your breathing. You should continue to feel comfortable. Is your jaw relaxed? Loosen your jaw to create a little space between your teeth. Does your throat feel constricted: Swallow and relax your throat.

This is called diaphramatic breathing. This muscle in your belly lengthens and contracts your lungs. It enables the lungs to dispel some of the stagnant air in the lungs and replace it with fresh oxygen. It is strengthening your diaphramatic muscle and stretching your lungs.

Explore this mildly expanding breath.

At any time stop and go back to your own breathing.

There are some options you can explore with the diaphramatic breathing. Do one option per session. As you get comfortable add another one.

1. As you breathe (say to yourself); "in" on the inhale, "out" on the exhale".
2. Create a measured counted breath. As you inhale count to yourself, 1,2, then exhale 1,2. Practice this for a few times.
3. Then extend the counted breath: Inhale: 1,2,3, . . . Exhale: 1,2,3. Practice for a minute or two.
4. Extend the breath again: Inhale: 1,2,3,4. . . exhale: 1,2,3,4. Maintain your awareness of your body's and mind's feedback. If you feel uncomfortable in any way: stop, come back to just normal breathing.
5. Extend the exhalation for an extra count: Inhale: 1,2,3 . . . Exhale: 1,2,3,4.  If you feel a shortness of breath, stop go back to an even balanced breath:  inhale: 1,2,3 . . Exhale: 1,2,3 or return to your normal breathing.
Any one of these three can be practiced anywhere: Sitting on the bus, at the park, waiting in line. Its a wonderful opportunity to "pause" and just be present.

EXPANDING THE BREATH: Place your hands on your belly. As you inhale take your hands to your lower ribs and bring the breath so it rises slowly. Exhale, bring both your hands back to your belly. Practice for a few breaths so it feels comfortable.

A DEEPER BREATH involves an inhale that rises to you ribs and then to the upper chest. This is called a 3-part yogic breath. Start your hands on your lower belly. As you inhale slowly, lift both your hands to your lower ribs and then as your inhale lengthens, lift both hands to your upper chest. The breath follows your hands. Or your hands follow your breath. As you exhale, slowly follow your breath downwards so your hands glide down to your lower ribs and then once again rest on top of your belly. Repeat a few times and check in with yourself: Does it feel comfortable? If you think not, go back to your regular breathing. This could be the perfect time to stop and just relax.

POSSIBLE OPTIONS: (as above). Practice just one option for the first time. You can build on your practice a little at a time. Always letting your body and mind communicate with you to its appropriateness and the amount of time.

1. On your inhale say "in". On your exhale "out".
2. Create a comfortable count: Inhale: 1,2,3 . . . Exhale: 1,2,3
3. Add an additional count: Inhale: 1,2,3,4 . . . Exhale: 1,2,3,4
4. Extend the exhalation by one: Inhale: 1,2,3,4. . . Exhale: 1,2,3,4,5

Whatever approach you choose, you should be relaxed throughout. Check in with yourself - any tightness in your jaw? your throat? your hands? your chest? Do you feel a shortness of breath? All these are signs you should go back to your normal breathing pattern. Just relax for a few minutes and notice how you feel. Yogic breathing is another opportunity to connect to yourself or in the yogic tradition called "self study".

This breathwork can be used at the beginning or end of your yoga practice. Or at the start of your meditation practice.

To help maintain focus on your actions and not on the time, set a timer on your cell phone, the microwave, your watch or whatever means is familiar. Set it for 3 minutes or 5 minutes.

You can also use focussing on the breath as a way to relax at bedtime: just before or while in bed as you settle your thoughts. Open your heart and offer a moment of gratitude for all the good in your life at this moment.

"Within yourself is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself"
Hermann Hesse

Submitted by

Mary Vickars
Ananda Yoga & Meditation Teacher
May 2020