3 Breathing Techniques to Help You De-Stress and Refocus in the Moment Executive coach and author Susan S. Freeman shares these exercises to center yourself during chaotic times in her new book, 'Inner Switch: 7 Timeless Principles to Transform Modern Leadership.'
The following is an excerpt from the new book, Inner Switch: 7 Timeless Principles to Transform Modern Leadership by Susan S. Freeman, available now at Entrepreneur Bookstore, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BAM and Apple.
There are a variety of breathing practices in yoga that can assist us in regulating the state of our mind, body and spirit. These ancient breathing exercises ought to be practiced for 10 to 15 minutes daily. Do them sitting with your back absolutely erect, from the base of your spine to your neck, and your chin perpendicular to the floor. The rest of your body should be relaxed, with no strain. They also should be done on an empty stomach. Eyes should be closed.
1. Alternate Nostril Breathing
One of the most commonly used and recommended breath practices, suitable for most people, is alternate nostril breathing, or nadi shodhana pranayama. Its purpose is to balance the left and right hemispheres of the brain. This helps us access deeper capacities, settle the nerves, and quiet the mind. A nadi is an energy channel, while sodhana is the Sanskrit term for the act of purifying or cleansing. So you could say this technique purifies the nerves. You may find it helpful for reducing anxiety and racing thoughts. Try it before meditation or bedtime. It is also useful for gathering your energy and centering yourself as you transition between activities.
In this practice, we alternate between the right and left nostrils as we inhale and exhale, regulating the flow of air through our nasal passages. As we do, the activity of the mind becomes still.
Caution: People with medical conditions that affect the lungs, such as asthma or COPD, should consult a physician before trying this practice. If you feel any shortness of breath while doing it, stop immediately and let your breathing return to normal.
Here's how to do it.
Raise your right hand to your face. Close the right nostril with your thumb and place your ring finger over the left nostril. Place your second and third fingers between your eyebrows to rest.
Lift your ring finger. Inhale through the left nostril, slowly, steadily, and deeply, fully filling the lungs. Retain the air for a moment.
Now gently press down on the outside of the left nostril again with your ring finger and then release your thumb from the right nostril. Exhale slowly.
Next, inhale through the right nostril, keeping the left nostril closed. Hold the air.
Gently press your thumb on the outside of the right nostril and then release your ring finger. Exhale slowly. This completes one entire cycle.
Repeat the sequence for 8 to 10 cycles.
Finish the practice by lying down on your back, closing your eyes, with a blanket under your neck and knees, if desired. It is essential to do whatever you need to in order to be able to fully relax. This is known as "corpse pose" (savasana). Remain in this pose for five minutes to fully integrate the changes it has produced.
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2. Ocean Breathing
Ocean breathing (or ujjayi pranayama) is an extremely simple breath practice that immediately produces calm. Yogis use this technique to focus their minds while they're holding poses. It's a bit noisy, sounding sort of like Darth Vader breathing inside his helmet, so it would not be suitable during a meeting, but it can help improve concentration if you are feeling distracted.
There are no contraindications for ocean breathing. But if you have a stuffy nose or sore throat, you might find its sensations uncomfortable.
Here's how to do it.
1. Inhale through the nose and exhale slowly through the mouth for a few breaths, making the sound of "ha" during exhalation.
2. Now close your mouth, and both inhale and then exhale through the nose, still making the same sound, only with your mouth closed. Direct the movement of air to the back of your mouth, where the sinus passages meet the throat.
3. Skull Shining Breath
This breathing technique, known as kapalabhati pranayama, is energizing and activates the SNS (Sympathetic Nervous System). It is not recommended when you are feeling stressed or in chronic overdrive, but it is helpful on days when your brain is foggy or you feel tired and need a pick-me-up. In breath work, it is the equivalent of drinking a cup of coffee, so do it once to become alert and then move on.
Caution: People with high blood pressure or heart conditions should not attempt skull shining breathing unless they are on medication and their blood pressure is well-regulated and in the normal range. They should consult their physician before doing so.
Here's how to do it. The key is the emphasis you place on your out-breath.
Take a breath through your nose with a full, deep inhalation and a long, slow exhalation. On your next round of breathing, you can pick up the pace.
Begin pulling in your lower abdomen to force air out of your nostrils in short spurts. Keep your mouth closed and your face relaxed.
There is no need to inhale actively. Each inhalation will be passive and happen naturally. At this point, the breaths in and out become even in length and rapid-fire.
Continue for 60 to 90 exhalations. Then let your breathing return to normal.
Inhale deeply and hold as long as you can without struggle.
As you feel the rush of energy to your third eye, while holding your breath, tilt your head back with your nose pointed toward the ceiling. Hold your breath for as long as you can without strain.
As you exhale, relax your head back into a neutral, horizontal position.
Enjoy the moment between inhalation and exhalation.
You have entered a balanced state where you can become the witness.
Whenever you feel the urge to breathe, allow your breathing to return to normal.
To learn more centering and energizing breathing techniques, pick up Inner Switch: 7 Timeless Principles to Transform Modern Leadership by Susan S. Freeman, available now at Entrepreneur Bookstore, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BAM and Apple.