I always found it absurd when people would tell me to 'take a breath' when I was stressed or overwhelmed. Breathing is an automatically controlled process, I would think to myself. However, it was only after I started practicing yoga when I realised the importance of mindful breathing and how it can contribute to managing your stress levels.
Look, managing stress is no easy task, so I understand why handling stress or anxiety in the middle of a global pandemic can seem almost impossible. Thanks to coronavirus, we're dealing with social isolation, a failing economy, loss of job security, and a general sense of uncertainty about the future. However, the initial results from the clinical trials conducted by the University of Oxford seem positive, and it looks like our fight with COVID-19 will come to an end sooner or later.
However, pandemic or not, as human beings we'll always have things to worry about, so we must learn to breathe through it all. According to 34-year-old yoga expert Vishal Verma, mindful breathing helps you become more focused and still. "One of the primary benefits of mindful breathing techniques is that when practiced properly, they can support the parasympathetic nervous system and activate what is commonly known as the relaxation response," he told POPxo.
"This helps in reducing stress, and its effects can be felt on your body as well as mind. As a result, your resilience in the face of challenge or adversity increases, and your mind becomes more focused and still, which is much needed during this pandemic," he added.
We asked Vishal for a few techniques on how to practice mindful breathing. The best part? You can do them anytime, anywhere.
This is a common technique that is also used in several meditation practices. According to Vishal, you are supposed to inhale and exhale in the 1:2 ratio. For example, you can breathe in for four counts, and breathe out at eight counts. You can change the ratio according to what you're comfortable with. "The duration totally depends on one's lung capacity and can be increased gradually," said Vishal.
Anulom Vilom, also known as the alternate breathing technique, is a popular breathing technique that helps you control your breath, facilitates proper functioning of the lungs and keeps stress at bay. While Indian yogis have been practicing this technique for centuries, it is now also gaining popularity in the west. Here's what you need to do:
1. Choose a comfortable sitting meditation pose. Keep your spine and neck straight and close your eyes.
2. Try to clear your mind of everything outside of this moment.
3. Start with your outer wrists resting on your knees. Using your right hand, fold your middle and index fingers toward your palm.
4. Place your thumb on your right nostril and your ring finger on the left nostril.
5. Close your right nostril with your thumb and inhale through your left nostril, slowly and deeply, until your lungs are full. Focus on your breathing.
Repeat this process for about five minutes.
It's okay to start slow, as long as you start somewhere. If you aren't ready for intentional breathing exercises yet, experts recommend that you try sitting with your breath in silence every day. Instead of forcing yourself to clear your thoughts, just focus on the moment. You can sit in any position you find comfortable, and you don't need to close your eyes if you don't want to. Try doing this every day, and gradually increase your sitting time. Soon, you'll want to try intentional breathing techniques.
More than anything, intentional breathing helps you to take a break and step outside your own head for a few minutes, giving you a sense of peace. And we could all use a few moments like that, now more than ever.
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