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Calming Breathing Techniques to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Updated: Nov 18, 2023

Are you catching your breath after running from meeting to errand to chores? Holding your breath in suspense? Is someone taking your breath away? Are you saving your breath for later?

If our eyes are the window to our soul, then our breath is the mirror of our emotions. Our breath is quick and shallow when we feel anxious or agitated – it is slow and deep when we feel relaxed and at ease. Luckily, this connection offers us the opportunity to influence our emotional state, especially in times of stress and anxiety: This is powerful stuff! You can calm yourself by consciously slowing down and deepening your breath.

You can benefit from breathing techniques in your daily life to reduce levels of stress and anxiety. And you can benefit in your professional life, too, for expample, when you have to give a presentation or sales pitch, before a job interview, or to prepare for an exam.

A word about breathing in yoga

In a yoga class, you will come across two different types of breathing:

1. Breathing during class. A yoga teacher might cue when to inhale, and when to exhale, especially in Vinyasa classes. Please regard this as a suggestion, and don't get worried if you breathe in a different way. At the end of the day, the rhythm of your breathing may vary considerably from your teacher's rhythm. Also, it takes a while to combine movement with breathing, so if you are new to yoga, the main goal is to keep your breath relaxed, natural and steady - everything else will fall into place later. Try to breathe in and out through the nose (unless your nose is blocked up of course).

2. Pranayama breathing techniques. These are special breathing techniques typically practiced before or after a yoga class, or in a separate pranayama session. These breathing techniques have their origin in ancient texts and were supposed to help cleanse the body, balance energies, and steady the mind in preparation for meditation. Current research has shown that breathing techniques can help you manage fears, anxieties, stress, and chronic pain. Take your time to learn these techniques one by one, one step at a time. Find out which ones you like and practice these until they feel natural. Breathing techniques should be stopped immediately should they make you feel dizzy. If you are interested in a description of three pranayama techniques to reduce stress and anxiety, click here.

How breathing techniques work

Stress and axiety activate our sympathetic nervous system, what is known as the "fight-or-flight response. When this happens, powerful stress hormones are released into the blood stream which initiate a series of changes: Your breathing becomes faster and more shallow, your heart rate and blood pressure go up, you may get tunnel vision, feel fidgety, get irritable. The fight-or-flight response is useful for situations when we must act quickly or when we are in danger. Prolonged activation of the stress response unfortunately can contribute and even cause illness and mental and emotional imbalance. The parasympathetic nervous system on the other hand supports rest, relaxation, rest and rejuvenation. This response can be triggered, in part, by deep, diaphragmatic breathing and pranayama breathing techniques.

Download this free guide

Here's a free pdf file with three simple, calming breating techniques. Try them out, and if you have any questions, get in touch. You may find, that one of these techniques appeals to you right away. Keep practicing this one regularly. Regular practice will help you become really familiar with the technique but will also condition your mind and body to let go of stress and start calming down. It is worth learning breathing techniques even when you are not feeling stressed right now so that you have them ready at hand when at a time when they are needed.

“The inhalation, the return movement of breath, sustains life. The outgoing breath purifies life. We breathe out the old air, the old thoughts, the old feelings.” (Vijnana Bhairava Tantra)

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