I tend to get into my head a lot and forget to breathe, which in turn can lead to anxiety and overwhelm. Over time, if not attended to, this can develop into chronic stress!
One of my go-to self-care tools for managing my stress is taking 5 minutes to relax and breathe. As a yoga teacher, I’ve learned a lot of different breath techniques over the years, but the one I come back to again and again is Equal Parts Breath or Balancing Breath.
How to Practice Balanced Breathing / Sama Vrtti:
Sit in a relaxed yet upright posture, or lie down with supports under the head and knees, if needed.
Tune into the natural rhythm of your breath.
Breathe into your belly – not forcefully, but focus on expanding the belly like a balloon on your inhalations.
Breathe in to a count of 3 or 4 seconds, and breathe out to a count of 3 or 4 seconds.
Gradually lengthen to count to 5 or 6 seconds per inhale and exhale, if it is comfortable.
Come back to your natural rhythm of breath if you need to at any time.
This simple breath exercise has been proven to improve heart rate variability, which is a measure of our resiliency to stress. Give it a try – when you’re sitting in the car, about to have a difficult conversation, when you first wake up or right before bed – your nervous system will thank you!
If you like my free videos, feel free to Buy Me a Coffee to show your support.
Panting is the primary way for dogs to cool themselves off because they don’t sweat the way humans do. Instead, dogs cool down through their mouths using the evaporation of moisture from the mouth and tongue, and by exchanging the hot air of their lungs with cooler external air.
For us humans, Cooling Breath, or Śītalī (shee-tuh-lee) Prāṇāyāma, can help in much the same way. We can “drink the air” through a curled tongue to cool down!
Śītalī Breath cools the body, adds moisture to the system, and may reduce fatigue, bad breath, fevers, and high blood pressure. I use it for hot flashes.
How to Practice Śītalī / Śitakārī Breath:
Close your eyes, take a few normal breaths, then open the mouth and form the lips into an “O.”
Curl the tongue lengthwise and project it out of the mouth.
Inhale deeply across the tongue and into the mouth as if drinking through a straw.
Focus your attention on the cooling sensation of the breath as the abdomen and lower ribs expand.
Withdraw the tongue and close the mouth, exhaling completely through the nostrils. During each exhalation, you can also lightly touch the tip of the tongue to the roof of the mouth, inviting the tip of the tongue to send coolness toward the upper palate.
Swallow now and then if the throat feels dry.
Continue this cycle until you feel refreshed.
If you are unable to curl your tongue, try Śitakārī (shee-tuh-kah-ree) breath. Gently press your lower and upper teeth together and separate your lips as much as you comfortably can, so your teeth are exposed to the air. Inhale through the teeth and exhale through the nose.
Besides building breath awareness, this practice is said to calm hunger and thirst! If you experience hot flashes or feel uncomfortably hot due to the weather, give it a try and let me know how it goes!
Ujjayi breath is a common yogic breathing technique where a soft oceanic sound is created by constricting the vocal folds in the throat. Also called Victorious Breath, it sounds like a faraway ocean, or your fans cheering for you! Try Ujjayi Breath for calm focus as you sit in meditation, practice yoga, or go about your day as a way to keep you anchored in the present moment.
I was taught Ujjayi breath in one of the very first yoga classes I ever attended, and although it took a little while for me to figure out how to find ease with it, now it’s become my number one tool in my conscious breathing toolbox. It’s also a gateway to controlling your breath for better respiratory function, improving blood pressure and overall quality of life. There are even some studies that connect Ujjayi breath with better immune function in cancer patients. Personally I use it to stay present, and to help lengthen my breath with smooth control, in order to regulate my own nervous system.
Ujjayi breath has a very soft sound to it. This sound is creating by lightly constricting the throat, or vocal folds, as if you were whispering or fogging up a windowpane. Except the mouth is closed. The sound itself is very calming and light, never forced. Never as loud as Darth Vader’s breathing.
Because it is a smooth, controlled breath, practicing Ujjayi can help you avoid gulping air in, or just huffing the air out. In this way we can really explore lengthening the breath, and in turn calming the nervous system. It’s as if you were sipping air slowly through a straw, sweetly savoring it and releasing it out luxuriously, like a stream of oil flowing, smooth and uniform. Even inhale, even exhale.
Ujjayi Pranayama is detailed in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, written by Yogi Swatmarama in the 15th century. He writes, “closing the mouth, inhale with control and concentration, so that the breath is felt from the throat to the heart and produces a sonorous sound…it helps relax the physical body and the mind, and develops awareness of the subtle body and psychic sensitivity.”
This oceanic sound really helps you become more conscious of your breath – by itself Ujjayi breath can be a concentration practice. We can also control our breath better, because as we lightly narrow the throat, we’re increasing airway resistance and controlling airflow so that each phase of the breath cycle can be prolonged to an exact count. It helps me breathe more slowly, show up more fully. When we can consciously slow down the breath, or regulate the length of inhalations and exhalations, we can regulate our own nervous systems.
Once you get the hang of Ujjayi breath on its own, see if you can practice Ujjayi breath while doing something else – of course, yoga comes to mind, but maybe you have PT exercises you can add the breath to, or try it while you’re out walking. Let me know how it goes!
I discovered Bee’s Breath, or Bhramari Pranayama, many moons ago when it was offered as a tool to help reduce my anxiety. Back then, before I began a regular yoga and breathing practice, sometimes “taking a deep breath” or even focusing on the breath at all wasn’t helpful or made things worse. However, in the first few moments of trying Bee’s Breath, my unhelpful mental thought-loop was literally drowned out by the humming sound I was creating, and its vibration immediately grounded me in my body. I started to feel calm right away, and return to this practice again and again for these benefits.
Bhramari is the Sanskrit word for “bee,” so this meditative breath exercise is named for the humming sound produced: like that of a bee, droning in the garden. As we’re exhaling and creating the droning sound, we’re also lengthening our exhalations – which in turn activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the side in charge of “resting, digesting, and healing.”
But wait, there’s more! I recently learned that humming could also improve immunity, by releasing a beneficial gas called Nitric Oxide into the system (NO.) NO is a critical component in the eradication of viruses.
Here’s how it works: Nasal NO levels increase dramatically during humming compared with normal quiet nasal exhalation. This effect is likely due to increased contribution of NO from the paranasal sinuses. Humming causes the air to oscillate, which in turn seems to increase the exchange of air between the sinuses and the nasal cavity.
However, to receive the full anti-viral and anti-bacterial benefits of NO, we need to inhale through the nose after the humming is finished, to draw the NO back into the respiratory tract via the bronchial passageways. Nitric Oxide is a free, naturally produced, anti-viral, anti-bacterial gas and can be made available at any time!
Bee’s Breath Potential Benefits
• Calms and quiets the mind • Releases Nitric Oxide into the nasal passages, NO is naturally anti-viral and anti-microbial • Improves immunity • Increases lung capacity • Initiates the “Rest, Digest, and Heal Response,” lowering heart rate, blood pressure, and calming nervous system • May aid in loosening blockage from the sinuses
Bee’s Breath may also have a positive effect on tinnitus, bolster the health of the throat, and strengthen and improve the voice. Practicing for at least 5 minutes may help you achieve a more meditative state. Try it with me in the video below, and let me know how it goes.
How to Practice Bee’s Breath:
Sit comfortably but upright, with a stable foundation to support you.
You can rest one hand on the heart, another on the belly if you want to really feel the vibration of the hum.
If it’s comfortable you could close your eyes, or gaze softly downwards.
Gently close the lips, and try to keep the jaw relaxed throughout your practice.
To begin, take a deep breath in through the nostrils.
As you slowly exhale with the mouth closed, make a steady, low-pitched ‘hmmm’ sound at the back of the throat—like the humming of a bee. Focus on making the sound soft, smooth, and steady.
When you inhale, be sure to breathe in through the nose, thus distributing the beneficial NO throughout the respiratory system.
Continue for as many repetitions as you like. After the final exhalation, allow your breath to return to normal and observe any effects from your practice.
Maybe you can even feel the vibration continue after you’ve stopped humming!
Let me know how it goes by typing your comments below or on the YouTube video‘s comment section.