Breath Into Happiness: Techniques to Relax and Reduce Stress

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Breath Into Happiness: Techniques to Relax and Reduce Stress

Posted 22 Apr 2018

Yoga

Elaine Kelly

Breath Into Happiness: Techniques to Relax and Reduce Stress

We know beyond any doubt stress can be detrimental to our health.  It might be work-related, family issues or simply having a lot on our plates, but stress is something we need to combat if we are to lead healthy, happy lives.

In today’s post, I’m going to share a few simple breathing exercises that will help to lower stress levels and expand your lung capacity allowing more oxygen into each cell in your body and releasing carbon dioxide and stress from your body.  In yogic terms, we call breathing exercises, Pranayama.  Prana means our life force energy and Ayama means expansion. So, we are expanding our life force energy.  Ancient yogis looked to nature for clues to longevity and they saw that animals that took the least number of breaths, lived the longest.  They created these practises to lengthen the time between our breaths and also slow down our heart’s beat.   We all want to live long and healthy lives, so let’s get started.

Belly Breathing

This is the most basic of the breathing practises and you should therefore aim to master this one before trying out the others. It’s very simple, and requires just a few steps:

  1. Sit down comfortably, or lay down on a yoga mat
  2. Place one hand on your stomach, just below your belly button. Place the second hand on your chest
  3. Breathe in deeply through your nostrils, letting your belly hand be pushed out by your stomach. You should find that your chest stays stationary
  4. Breathe out through your lips, pursing them as if you were about to whistle. Gently guide the hand on your stomach inwards, helping to press out the breath
  5. Slowly repeat between 5 times

You should begin to feel relaxed as soon as you have repeated the Belly Breathing exercise two or three times, but keep going for as long as you wish.  We are not really breathing into our belly, we are breathing into our lower lung lobes.  Our diaphragm, the main muscle of respiration, drops causing our lungs to take in air and our internal organs to expand out.  Then our diaphragm contracts causing our lungs to empty and our belly to drop.  Engage your abdominal muscle to exhale out as long as you can.  Then enjoy the rush of breath that comes in. Master this breathing exercise, then move onto the next one.

Rib Cage Breathing

We are now going to breath into our middle lung area or rib cage area.  Place each hand to the side of your ribs and rest your elbow on the floor if lying or out to the sides if seated. This breath allows the muscles between your ribs, the Intercostals, to get a lovely stretch.  With more flexibility, you can take deeper breaths and double your lung capacity.

  1. Inhale through the nose and feel your hands expand out as your lungs expand. Exhale and feel the ribs contract as the air is released
  2. As you continue take your attention to your side ribs 
  3. Finally take your attention to your back ribs as you inhale and exhale
  4. Slowly repeat this 5 times before trying the next one

Chest Breathing

This is the place we most often breath but it tends to be just in the front of our body.  In this exercise we will focus on the front and back body.

  1. Place your hands on your chest just below your collar bones either side of your sternum where your pectoralis muscle is
  2. Inhale into your chest and feel your hands rise
  3. Exhale and feel your hands lower
  4. Now turn your attention to your back body and try to feel the space between your shoulder blades expand as you inhale, and contract as you exhale
  5. Repeat this 5 times really focussing your mind on where you feel the breath moving

Rolling Breath – Full Yogic Breath

We will now bring the first three breathing techniques together to practise a rolling or full yogic breath. Beginners are advised to lie down, but after your first time you should find it just as easy to sit and complete this exercise. We will be dividing the breath into 3 phases as we fill our torso with air from the bottom to the top and back down again. Imagine filling a bottle with water and then pouring it out.  Apply the same logic here.

  1. Position yourself with your one hand on your stomach, and the other over your chest. Your hands should move as you inhale and exhale
  2. Take a easy breath into your belly, then take another sip of air into your ribs and finally another sip of air into your chest
  3. Exhale and feel your chest lower, then your ribs contract in around your lungs and finally your belly lowers toward your spine
  4. Repeat up to 8 times. Gently exhale through your mouth, being sure to empty your lungs as you do so. While you exhale, make a small whooshing noise. You should notice that both of your hands are moving back towards your body, as your stomach and chest fall
  5. You should practice this method for between 4 and 5 minutes. When you exhale, you should be able to feel a tangible difference in your stress levels

Morning Breathing

While the above three exercises can be completed whenever necessary, the next method is called Morning Breathing and, as the name suggests, should be practiced once you have woken for the day. It aims to relax your muscles after a good night’s sleep, and will help you to minimize tension for the remainder of the day. Remember each movement has a breath.

  1. Stand up straight and, slightly bending your knees, exhale as you begin to bend forward from the waist till your arms are hanging close to the floor, limply. Your knees remain bent to protect your lower back from any strain
  2. Take a breath in and slowly uncurl your spine to your original standing position. Your head should be the last thing to straighten
  3. Exhale, returning to the position of being bent forward by the end of your exhale. Stand up straight once you have finished, stretching your muscles as required

Do this 3-5 times and your spine will love you. If at the end you wish, place your hands on your back and lean back to extend your spine.  Now you are ready to face the day ahead with a big smile.

For more advice, please feel free to reach out or leave a comment below.

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Tim

Tim says:

3 months 3 weeks ago
Thanks for the great tips. I'll try these next time I feel stressed which will probably before today is through!

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