Breathing is an essential part of life. We need to do this involuntary act at least 6 times a minute or we’ll die in about the same space of time it takes a streetlight to turn from red to green!
Yet stress and life in general can quickly alter this act that most of us rarely give any thought to, until the ability’s taken away that is! (think holding your head under water for too long)
The following 3 breathing exercises can really help you start the day out right and to achieve balance in times of stress, illness, depression, etc.
#1. The Bellow’s Breath (Boundless Energy)
This is sometimes called the “Stimulating Breath”. You can do this in the morning in place of the Short 4-Hold-4, or do it right after to really kick your morning into 5th gear. Do this breathing exercise before a big meeting, hardcore workout, or any other activity that requires your mind and/or body to be as sharp as possible.
Those of you who’ve practiced yoga or meditation of any kind will likely already have heard of this. This is a great substitute for a morning or mid-afternoon coffee too.
How to do it:
*Don’t do this exercise when you’re severely stressed or experiencing symptoms of panic as it will make you feel even more amp’d up than you already are. Sit in a chair or stand still while doing this exercise, to avoid feeling out of breath. Executing the Bellow’s Breath is really simple, as you’ll see below.
- Breathe in and out very quickly through your nose. Don’t breathe deeply but rather as fast as you can.
- Aim for a few inhale/exhales every second if you can.
- Do this constantly for 15 seconds, then relax and breathe deep normal stomach breaths for another minute.
- Repeat the fast-breathing sequence again for another 15 seconds, followed by a minute of deep stomach breathing.
- Continue for up to 5 repetitions which should equal around 5 – 7 minutes total time.
As you become comfortable with this exercise, feel free to increase the duration of the fast-breathing sequence. Never reduce the time spent stomach breathing in between though, as this is needed to help the body and particularly the brain adjust to the new surge of oxygen you’re giving them.
#2. The Short 4-Hold-4 (Energy and Balance)
This is a great exercise to get the body and brain oxygenated in the morning as soon as you jump out of bed. I don’t know who pioneered this technique, but I first heard it on a Tony Robbins’ tape (sorry, can’t even remember which one). It was highly touted back in the 80’s and 90’s and apparently has Harvard research backing it’s re-energizing effects on the brain and body. I do it every morning and night for 15 minutes at a time.
This particular exercise like so many breathing exercises, is geared toward restoring harmony in the body by balancing the levels of oxygen to carbon dioxide in the blood. Improper breathing is so common when we become stressed.
How to do it:
*It’s recommended you jump out of bed in the morning, throw on some clothes and get outside for a walk while doing this exercise. Though you can do it anytime you wish throughout the day or evening if you like. Don’t walk so fast that you’re out of breath, else you could hyperventilate!
- Quickly take exactly 4 short inhalations without exhaling (ie., inhale, inhale, inhale, inhale).
- Hold your breath for 4 seconds.
- Breathe out exactly 4 short times to empty your lungs (ie., exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale). Repeat the “4-Hold-4” sequence 4 times.
- Next, breathe deep stomach breaths for 2 minutes. Hopefully you’re walking outside in the fresh air and enjoying all that your surroundings have to offer!
- Repeat the 4-Hold-4 sequence again for 4 repetitions, followed by the 2 minute deep stomach breaths for up to 20 minutes every morning, or when you’re feeling stressed or out of energy.
It’s okay if the last of your four exhales on every sequence are longer than the rest. This is natural and you do want to empty your lungs completely before beginning a new inhalation sequence. As you continue to practice though, aim to make every inhale and exhale as evenly-timed as possible.
#3. The 4-7-8 (Deep Relaxation)
This breathing exercise is another that’s commonplace in yoga and meditation circles. It’s very effective at normalizing our oxygen to carbon-dioxide levels quickly, which makes it invaluable for overcoming stress-filled situations, fighting anxiety and panic attacks, and for getting to sleep more quickly at night.
This is the easiest of all the exercises I’ve mentioned — just as any true relaxation exercise should be, right?
How to do it:
*The 4-7-8 should be done while you’re sitting or lying down to get the most out of it. Blank your mind (ie., meditate) and you’ll get even more out of this simple breathing exercise.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose with mouth closed, for 4 seconds.
- Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
- Purse your lips and breathe out forcefully through your mouth. Use your back, chest and lower abdomen muscles to generate as much “exhaling power” as you can.
If the times are too long for you, try shortening them while keeping the ratios very close: ie., 2-5-6. But make an effort to work up to 4-7-8 as this is the optimal ratio to encourage the lungs to take up as much oxygen as possible on the inhale, while also releasing as much carbon dioxide as possible during the exhale.
That’s it! These 3 breathing exercises are now a huge part of my life and trust me; if you’re over-stressed or under-energized, you’re probably not breathing right and it’s contributing more negative energy to your life than you realize.
Share your own favorite breathing exercises in the comments. I can’t wait to hear what all of you do to keep energy levels peaked and stress levels low!
Main Image Credit: Bindaas Madhavi/Flickr