Mental Health

3 breathing exercises for a calmer mind

Pause for a moment and take a breath. Feel better? Though it sounds too good to be true, breathing exercises are a simple way to help us feel much more calm, even in the most fraught of moments.

Our breath can make a huge difference to how we’re feeling. Short, sharp breaths may be a sign we’re feeling anxious, whereas we’re more likely to take slower, deeper breaths when we’re relaxed.

Here, we share three helpful yoga breathing exercises (known as pranayama) to keep in your toolkit for when you’re in need of a moment of calm.

Three breathing exercises to help you feel calm

Try one of these to practice at a time, rather than all three at once. If something doesn’t feel right or makes you uncomfortable, stop the practice and return to a natural breathing pattern.

Samavritti pranayama

The samavritti breath is often called the ‘equal-parts’ or ‘box’ breath and is practiced in four stages of equal length.

This breath can help to focus a busy mind and, as a result, you may notice you start to feel calmer.

  1. Find a comfortable seat. This might be in a cross-legged position on the floor or, alternatively, sit upright in a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Close your eyes or lower your gaze. Allow yourself to settle here, spending a few moments paying attention to the natural ebb and flow of your breath.
  3. When you feel ready, inhale for a count of four.
  4. At the top of your inhale, pause and hold the breath for a count of four.
  5. Exhale for a count of four.
  6. At the bottom of your exhale, pause and hold the breath for a count of four.
  7. Repeat this for three more cycles.

The key is to remain relaxed throughout the exercise, so feel free to take breaks between each cycle to settle your breathing. As you become more used to the exercise, you may wish to repeat for a few more cycles.

Visamavritti pranayama

Once you feel comfortable with samavritti breathing , you may wish to try visamavritti pranayama (unequal breath). This is where your exhale becomes lengthened in comparison to the inhale.

  1. As before, find a comfortable seat for practice and take a moment to settle yourself.
  2. Inhale for a steady count of four.
  3. Exhale for a steady count of six.
  4. Repeat for three more cycles.

Again, remember to take breaks in between cycles if you need. Lengthening the exhalation helps us to tap into our ‘rest-and-digest response’, calming the nervous system.

Viloma pranayama

This breathing technique – also known as ‘interrupted breathing’ – aims to quieten the mind and encourage concentration. It is where either the inhale or the exhale is interrupted by a brief pause. Here, we will practice with an interrupted inhale, and a long continuous exhale.

  1. As before, find a comfortable seat. Settle into your practice.
  2. Think about your usual inhale, and notice the amount of breath you breathe in. We will divide this breath into three parts.
  3. When you’re ready, inhale a third, pause.
  4. Inhale a second third, pause.
  5. Inhale the final third, pause.
  6. Gently exhale all the way out, in a steady continuous rhythm.
  7. Repeat three more times.

Remember to take natural breaths between each cycle if you need. Once you feel comfortable interrupting the inhale, swap the exercise over so that you have a smooth inhale, and then an exhale that is split into three parts.

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