There are a few obvious times in my life when I think about breathing – before swimming in the ocean, while practicing yoga, and prior to surgery as I increase focus in front of the scrub sink. While these are all important reasons to think about our breath and manage it accordingly, recently I’ve learned a few other helpful techniques with significant benefits I would like to share.
Alternate Nostril Breathing for Anxiety, Stress, and Sleep
Nadi Shodhana, or “alternate nostril breathing,” is a simple breathing technique that works to reduce anxiety and settle the mind and body (1). Here’s how to do it:
- Sit down in a comfortable position, making sure to straighten your spine and open your heart.
- Take your left palm and set it on your lap. Then raise your right hand in front of your face.
- Place your right pointer and middle fingers between your eyebrows, using them as an anchor.
- With your eyes closed, breathe in deeply through your nose.
- Using your right thumb, close your right nostril and inhale through your left nostril slowly.
- Then use your ring finger to close your left nostril so both nostrils are held closed. Hold your breath for a brief moment.
- Open your right nostril and exhale slowly through the right side. Pause briefly at the end of the exhale.
- Slowly breathe in through the right side.
- Using your ring finger and thumb, hold both nostrils closed.
- Open your left nostril and exhale through the left side.
- Repeat 5-10 times, allowing your mind to follow your breath.
A good pace to shoot for is to finish one cycle in roughly 30-40 seconds. If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, do 5-10 cycles to calm yourself and reset.
Resonant (Coherent) Breathing to Reduce Anxiety
Another breathing technique is Resonant or Coherent Breathing. Resonant breathing, also referred to as deep breathing, helps to calm the body through its impact on the autonomic nervous system (2). In one study, levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) – important because of its anti-anxiety effects. – were shown to increase after a trial of controlled breathing (3).
Coherent Breathing involves taking long slow breaths at a rate of about five per minute (4).
Here’s how you can try it:
- Focus on your natural breathing. Count the duration of each inhale and exhale to get a baseline for your own breathing.
- Find a comfortable position. Set one hand on your stomach.
- Breath in for four seconds and then out for four seconds. Do this for one minute.
- Repeat, but extend your inhales and exhales to five seconds.
- Repeat again, extending further to six seconds.
During the process, keep your hand on your stomach to ensure that you are breathing deeply from your diaphragm and not shallowly from your chest. If you can’t stop your thoughts from wandering, bring yourself back to focusing on your breathing. Some people may feel comfortable building up to even longer breaths.
Alternate Nostril Breathing and Coherent Breathing are two techniques I’ve found useful in my own daily life. Both techniques take PRACTICE! They’re quick and easy, and work wonders to calm everyday anxieties. That being said, these are far from the only two breathing techniques for reducing stress.
What other breathing techniques do you find helpful?
(2) Jerath R, Crawford MW, Barnes VA, Harden K. Self-regulation of breathing as a primary treatment for anxiety. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. 2015 Jun;40(2):107-15. doi:10.1007/s10484-015-9279-8
(3) Streeter CC, Gerbarg PL, Brown RP, et al. Thalamic Gamma Aminobutyric Acid Level Changes in Major Depressive Disorder After a 12-Week Iyengar Yoga and Coherent Breathing Intervention. J Altern Complement Med. 2020;26(3):190-197. doi:10.1089/acm.2019.0234
(4) Cuncic, Arlin. “How Coherent Breathing Can Help Your Anxiety.” Verywell Mind, 9 Apr. 2020, www.verywellmind.com/an-overview-of-coherent-breathing-4178943.