For thousands of years yogis have known the amazing benefits of breath work. Science has corroborated these techniques with data about the nervous system; specifically, the ability of certain breath practices to actually switch the body from the sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, or freeze) to the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). As few as five to ten cycles of 4-4-4 breathing can calm one’s body-mind as much as a mild tranquilizer or herbal remedy.
(As with all suggestions on this site, if you have pre-existing health problems or current health concerns, please consult with your physician about the safety and appropriateness of any particular technique.)
First, make sure that you are bringing your breath all the way into your diaphragm (the area just below your navel). The easiest way to develop this ability is to lie on the floor with a rolled up hand towel under your knees (this relaxes the back). Put one hand on your chest and one on your abdomen. As you inhale, draw the breath deeply into your abdomen. The hand there should rise a little, while the hand on your chest should remain stationary. One of the simplest relaxation techniques is to practice this diaphragmatic breathing for 20 minutes with your eyes closed.
The 4-4-4 BREATH is simple but powerful:
Inhale to a very slow count of four.
Hold your breath, calmly, for a very slow count of four.
Exhale to a very slow count of four.
Five to ten cycles should leave you feeling calmer and refreshed.
Lengthening your exhale enhances calm.
Lengthening your inhale is energizing.
Equalizing the length of inhales and exhales is meditative and sleep inducing.
1:2 and 1:3 BREATH LENGTHENING:
Start by breathing naturally and observing how many counts or beats it takes to inhale and how many to exhale. If your inhales and exhales are not equal, which is the case for many people, consciously and gently equalize them. Once that feels comfortable, increase your exhalations by one count. When that feels easy, increase your exhales by another count. Do this until you reach a ratio of 1:2, with your exhales twice as long as your inhales.
If you feel relaxed with the 1:2 ratio, experiment with a 1:3 ratio, where your exhales are three times as long as your inhales.
Both these techniques engage your parasympathetic nervous system, helping you calmly rest and digest.
Though quite easy to learn, this is a very relaxing and balancing technique.
Inhale slowly and deeply to your diaphragm through your nose with your mouth closed.
Keeping your mouth closed, exhale 2/3 of your breath through your nose and the last third through your mouth.
Repeat for a minimum of five minutes.
Sit comfortably or lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.
Make your mouth a soft “O” shape and roll the sides of your tongue to create a tube shape.
Breathe in slowly and feel the cool air.
Close your mouth, let your tongue relax, and exhale through your nose.
Repeat 5-10 times.
VIRTUAL ALTERNATE NOSTRIL BREATHING:
This is very relaxing as it wonderfully focuses the mind relieving it of most distractions, and engages the parasympathetic nervous system.
Take a deep, slow breath through both nostrils and exhale.
Now, without touching your nose, focus on inhaling through the left nostril and counting ONE
Exhale though the right and count ONE
Inhale through the right, TWO
Exhale through the left, TWO
Inhale through the left, THREE
Exhale through the right, THREE
Inhale through the right, FOUR
Exhale through the left, FOUR
Inhale through both nostrils, FIVE
Exhale through both nostrils, FIVE.
Inhale through the left, SIX
Exhale through the right, SIX…
Continue in this manner with every multiple of FIVE inhaling and exhaling through both nostrils.
If you lose count you have to go back to the beginning and start with ONE.
This technique is beautifully explained on Swami Janakananda’s Yoga Nidra CD, if you would like someone to talk you through it.
SIMPLE ALTERNATE NOSTRIL BREATHING:
Gently rest the index and middle finger of your right hand on your third eye, the space between your eyebrows.
Take a slow breath through both nostrils and exhale through both.
Block off the right nostril with your thumb and inhale through the left.
Block off the left nostril with your ring finger and exhale through the right.
Repeat each cycle two more times.
Now, with the left nostril still blocked with your ring finger inhale through the right.
Block off the right nostril with your thumb and exhale through the left.
Repeat each cycle two more times.
Rest your hand in your lap and take two full deep breaths to resettle.
This is a very centering and relaxing technique as it creates balance between both hemispheres of the brain.
JIN SHIN JYUTSU 36 BREATHS:
This technique is from the ancient healing art of Jin Shin Jyutsu. The idea is you don’t take a breath, your receive it.
(You can find more information on this easy-to-use modality here: http://jsj-holds.blogspot.com/)
Begin by counting your exhalations,
One, exhale, inhale.
Two, exhale, inhale.
Continue in this manner.
If you lose count start again.
SIMPLEST BREATH WORK AND MANTRA OF ALL:
Inhale and say, “Breathing in, I’m breathing in.”
Exhale and say, “Breathing out, I’m breathing out.”
Repeat until you feel relaxed.
BREATH WORK FOR THE TOTALLY UNMOTIVATED:
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang