First of all: a pronounced anxiety disorder or trauma cannot simply be breathed away. But in combination with other measures, the right breathing technique can help you to calm down. This also applies to simple anxiety states, worried brooding and inner restlessness. If used regularly, the following breathing exercises from yoga can regulate stress, calm you down and prevent anxiety disorders.
Breath affects every single cell and is directly connected to brain activity and emotions. People breathe about 15 times a minute and 21,000 times a day. People who practice deep breathing regularly or meditate regularly can do so with 6 breaths per minute. Most of the time we are not even aware of breathing. Nevertheless, we can control our breath at any time and with a little practice we can positively influence the other processes.
Your Breath brings you directely into the Here and Now
All breathing exercises have 2 things in common: Firstly, they distract the mind from worrying thoughts because you concentrate on the breath. And secondly, they influence your autonomic nervous system and related bodily functions such as heartbeat, blood pressure, muscle tone and pain sensation.
Brooding and observing breath at the same time; the head is overstrained. So when you observe your breath (I will explain how to do this below) you are completely in the here and now. You perceive your sensations, the lifting and lowering of the abdominal wall, you feel how the breath moves through your body. It is completely different when you are brooding: then you are either in the past and thinking of something that makes you upset, angry or helpless, or you are in the future and are worried, afraid. In both cases, your nervous system reacts with the sympathetic nervous system: it switches to escape and fight mode, releases stress hormones that make breathing shallower, raise blood pressure and make your heart beat faster.
Your mind is never where your body is when you are brooding. It is in the past or in the future. It conducts nonsensical dialogues and usually goes round in circles. The thoughts jump from branch to branch like wild monkeys. If you concentrate it on what is – on your breath – your nervous system reacts with the parasympathetic system and reduces the stressors. The breath becomes deeper, the heartbeat slows down, the blood pressure drops. Try it out!
1. Sit still and breathe
Sit upright and close your eyes. If you feel uncomfortable with your eyes closed, you can also leave them open but without looking around. Your gaze goes inside. Observe your breath first. How does it feel? Do you breathe fast or slow? Shallow or deep? Where do you feel your breath. Perhaps on the wings of your nose? On your stomach? Do you feel your belly rising and falling? Or do you breathe more into the chest area? This exercise is all about observation. There is no good or bad, no right or wrong. Just look at what is there. Look curiously like a researcher looking through a microscope.
2. Slowed Exhalation
The sympathetic nervous system is active when there is stress and anxiety. Breathing is then usually fast and shallow. The faster the breathing, the faster the heartbeat. In addition, the next inhalation often takes place before the air has been completely exhaled. This can cause too much carbon dioxide to build up in the lungs and eventually in the blood. Complete and slow exhalation immediately slows down the heartbeat. In order to „come down“ from a state of arousal, to slow down the sympathetic nervous system and to give more room to the parasympathetic nervous system, slowing down exhalation is an effective and simple exercise.
After you have observed your breath for a few minutes as described above, you exhale once fully and slowly. Then take a slow and deep inhalation, counting to 4, hold your breath briefly (1 second) and then exhale slowly and completely, counting to 7. Again, hold it briefly (1 second) and repeat the slow inhale to 4 and the slow exhale to 7. Do this for 3 to 5 minutes. If you like, check your heartbeats before and after. You will see that the slower exhalation will quickly calm your heart and probably lower your blood pressure.
If you find it difficult to exhale slowly, practice with a straw. Here the air has to go through a narrow tunnel and you will automatically exhale more slowly. Otherwise you can of course change the rhythm, e.g. 3 inhale and 5 exhale. If you have practised this exercise regularly for a while, you can also double the exhalation (4/8 or 5/10 etc). But do not make it a competition; you should not put yourself under pressure.
3. Bhramahri, the Breathing of the Bumblebee
Bhramari Bhramari is also a breathing technique from Yoga. You inhale deeply and exhale by humming like a bee, as long as possible, counting at least 10. The rows of teeth do not touch each other, the lips lie slightly on top of each other and you feel a gentle vibration. Close your eyes and put your hands on your ears. Now you can feel the vibration in your whole head. Do this exercise sitting upright for about 3 minutes. It is also ideal before going to sleep. Maybe you have had a purring cat on your lap or lying on your stomach before, then you know how soothing this vibration is.
You can do each of these breathing exercises alone or one after the other, depending on how much time you have. Especially the first exercise, mindful breathing or breath observation can be done wherever you have to wait: in the train, at the station, at the doctor’s etc. It costs nothing and is very effective. Sometimes it is enough to simply breathe in and out three times in a row, slowly and deeply. If you have a stressful job, do it once an hour. You will see: small investment, big profit.
Breathing in I’m aware of my body;
breathing out I release the tension in my body.
Breathing in I’m aware of the emotion in me;
breathing out I release the tension in the emotion
-Thich Nhat Hanh