Our breath can do wonders for helping us become centered in times of adversity. Sadly, most of us bottle up our tensions, ultimately restricting airflow, which causes more stress on the body. Here are five quick breathing exercises to help you find calm in even the most tumultuous of situations.
Why Breath Is Important
Breathing is like cleansing the body. Our respiratory systems draw in oxygen that is used as a catalyst to serve many functions. In a phenomenon known as gas exchange, the lungs also filter out carbon dioxide, a waste gas created by our cells. Plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, which is just one part of our symbiotic relationship with the earth.
When we hold in our breath, we’re holding onto carbon dioxide and restricting oxygen intake. Inadequate oxygen intake can create more stress on your system.
Many of us don’t take advantage of the built-in support system in our breath. In fact, many of us don’t even breathe in as much oxygen as our lungs can store. We’re doing a huge disservice to ourselves by breathing improperly. You can foster good habits by trying a few breathing exercises.
What Are Breathing Exercises?
One way to improve our lung capacity and quality and to find calm is through deep breathing.
Deep breathing is exactly as the name suggests. It’s drawing air in slowly and fully expanding the lungs. The goal is to pull in as much oxygen as you can and to open your diaphragm. Quick breathing exercises are simple methods to retrain your system to take deeper, more enriching breaths.
Performing deep breathing techniques can help rejuvenate stagnant cells throughout the system, reaching areas that don’t often get a lot of love. This practice is incredibly beneficial for wellness.
Why Would You Need Quick Breathing Exercises?
While breathing is an autonomous function, implementing deep breathing techniques is not. We develop breathing habits over long periods of time. You can’t just flip a switch and start taking long, calm, deep breaths.
At first, you’ll have to focus deeply on performing these techniques. Just like building a muscle, it’s best to ease your way into the correct habits that will provide the best results. Being conscious of your breath allows you to perceive the benefits of this practice. With time, a better way of breathing will become second nature.
5 Quick Breathing Exercises
The stress and tension we hold onto throughout the day can lead our breath to become shallow and halted, causing our lungs to work inefficiently. Here are five quick breathing exercises to help you find calm in a sea of rough waters.
Sama Vritti (Equal Breathing)
Equal breathing exercises are an excellent way to foster good habits, and they can be done anywhere. Whether you’re driving in traffic, sitting in a crowded room or going to bed, you can perform this quick breathing exercise with little effort. No one even has to know you’re doing it.
Simply inhale through your nostrils for four seconds. Hold your breath for another four seconds, and then exhale for four. Keep this practice going. The goal is to work your way up to eight-second inhales and exhales.
Meditation is an excellent way to incorporate equal breathing into your daily life. By paying attention to your breath, you can take your mind away from mental chatter that can hinder your meditative state. Over time, your inhales and exhales will become so deep, you may even lose count!
4-7-8 quick breathing exercises are a lot like Sama Vritti, with more emphasis on the exhales than the inhales. That makes this exercise useful for anyone who wants to improve the performance of their diaphragms.
Like equal breathing, you will inhale for four seconds. Then retain your breath for seven seconds and follow with an exhale of eight. Continue this routine three to four times.
Those who regularly perform these quick breathing exercises tend to prefer 4-7-8 before bed. It helps create a rhythmic breath that can carry you peacefully through the night.
Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
Of these five quick breathing exercises, alternate nostril breathing might be our favorite. This technique is an excellent way to clear the cobwebs out of your head. It’s also a fantastic start for a detoxifying yoga session.
To perform alternate nostril breathing, make a fist with your dominant hand. Extend your thumb and pinky, sort of like a “hang ten” gesture. Gently press the side of one nostril with your thumb. Breathe in a nice, long breath. Hold it for three seconds. Press your pinky over the other nostril. Remove your thumb and exhale.
Now inhale through the open nostril. Once you reach your max intake, hold for three seconds. Press this nostril with your thumb, release your pinky and exhale. Continue this for at least two minutes. The more you do it, the better you will feel!
The first few times may seem a bit awkward, but once you find your pace, this practice can be extremely beneficial. Make sure to carve out some “me” time to work on this quick breathing exercise.
Ujjayi (Abdominal Breathing)
This exercise is targeted towards fostering autonomous diaphragmatic breathing. You do this by placing your hands on two parts of the body that have a vast influence on how we breathe.
Gently rest one hand over your belly button and the other right around the center of your chest. Feel your heartbeat. Smile and inhale deeply.
As you draw in the breath, you’ll feel the hand on your belly button lift. Hold your breath at the top. The hand on the belly will stay steady. Then breathe out as slowly as you possibly can, making a “HAAAAH” sound.
Each breath should be autonomous and not strenuous. You shouldn’t fear that you’re going to suffocate. Know that your body has your back. Try your hardest to maintain slow, smooth breaths. This technique takes a lot of practice, but soon you’ll notice the difference in your breath quality.
Kapalabhati or (Skull-Shining Breath)
The last of our quick breathing techniques is the most labor-intensive. It requires a lot of ab work and is a great warmup for anyone gearing up for some cardio.
Sit comfortably with your legs crossed. Keep your hands on your knees. Inhale for as long as possible. Hold for one second, and then exhale as fast as you can. Expel all of the air in your lungs, and be sure to follow up with a big inhale. The inhale should feel automatic and natural following a deep exhale.
It might sound silly, but on your last exhale, let out a roar and stick your tongue out. Stretch it as long as it can go while you exhale. You’ll notice so much tension release in your jaw area!
Tips for Improving Quick Breathing Exercises
There are many factors that may restrict our air supply. Here are a few of the most common that we should work on to supplement our breathing exercises.
Improve Your Posture
We live in a cramped-up world. Some of us spend hours in traffic. Others are hunched over a computer desk at work all day. At home, on the couch and in bed, we lay in an array of unnatural positions. Our poor lungs are being squeezed, but we can work to improve our posture in order to open up our airways. One of the best ways to achieve better posture is through yoga.
Yoga incorporates mindful breathing and allows us to be conscious of how we treat our bodies. As you work on your posture, your breathing will improve. Yoga also marries our movement to our breath, naturally integrating breathing exercises into a Vinyasa flow or Pranayama practice.
Stop Breathing Through Your Mouth
Many of us breathe through our mouths, rather than our nostrils. Your nostrils have hair-like protrusions and an olfactory system that act as filters. Not to mention, relying on mouth breathing can carry over into the night hours. When you breathe through your mouth during sleep, you are more likely to snore. Your partner and family members may even be missing out on sleep because of it! Work on breathing through your nose, and if you struggle with chronic nasal congestion, talk to a doctor.
Detoxify Your Space
Breathing exercises are just as important as the quality of air you breathe. If you are breathing in toxic substances, you might be doing a disservice to your practice.
Consider a HEPA activated charcoal air filter. These devices help pull mold and toxins out of the air that may otherwise end up in your lungs. Be sure to use a carbon monoxide detector with working batteries as well. Try essential oils and CBD products to help support balance in your system. All of these are excellent ways to supplement your breathing exercises.
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Hannah Smith is Joy Organics Director of Communications. She is driven by her passion for providing clear and accessible wellness and CBD education. In 2015, she received her BA in Media, Culture and the Arts from The King’s College in New York City and before Joy Organics, worked as writer and photographer in the Middle East and North Africa. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Vice, Vox, Denver Post, and the Coloradoan.