If you’ve been searching for a natural, easy, and effective way to alleviate your worries, then learning a powerful breathing exercise for stress relief might be the perfect solution for you.
Today, you’ll take between 17,280 – 23,040 breaths.
That means that at a minimum, you have 17,280 opportunities each day to use the breath to turn inwards and activate those safety signals to relieve stress and tension.
The thing is, breath is like a double-edged sword. It can work for you (if you learn to breathe correctly), and it can work against you (if you don’t learn to control it.)
In other words, your breath can be your ally or your foe, depending on who’s in control – you or it. If you don’t lead your breath, your breath will lead you.
When you’re in stress or panic mode, who’s in control at that moment? Your stress response or you?
Being unknowingly and chronically overtaken by your stress response means you’re not leveraging your breath. Instead, your breath is working against you. This makes it harder to face whatever curveballs and challenges are thrown your way.
But you can regain control. When you take back your breath through mindful awareness and intentional control, you take back your physiology. When you take back your physiology, you take control of your mind, mood, emotions, and body.
How breathing affects the nervous system
For thousands of years, yogic sages have known that the breath is the portal through which we can increase inner calm along with emotional and physical wellbeing.
Calm is retained by the controlled exhalation or retention of the breath.
–The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Sutra 1.34, Book 1
The wisdom of the 1,700-year-old authoritative text, Yoga Sutras, was indeed before its time.
It outlined what science has now proven: that controlled, deep breathing shifts our nervous system by activating the calming, regenerating, and relaxing response while at the same time lowering the stress/fear response.
Controlled, prolonged exhalation, in particular, has been shown to activate our parasympathetic nervous system. This is the branch of our nervous system responsible for our “rest-and-digest” relaxation response.
By slowing down our breathing pattern and consciously manipulating the inhales, breath-holds, and exhales, we can start to send safety signals to the brain and nervous system. This is fertile space for our minds to be able to slow down, release tension, and find stillness.
3-Minute Deep breathing exercise for stress and anxiety
The following is a super simple but oh-so-effective pranayama hack for instant calm. Don’t let its simplicity fool you into thinking that because it’s so easy, it’s not that effective.
In fact, it’s so effective it’s even used by Navy SEALS, first responders, and Olympic athletes to manage high-stress situations to perform optimally.
It’s known the Navy circles, it’s known as Tactical, Combat, or Box Breathing. In the yogic circles, it’s known as Sama Vritti or Equal Breath.
Vritti refers to the fluctuations of the mind which happen all too often during moments of heightened stress or overwhelm. Sama Vritti is considered a centering and soothing practice that can help calm those mental ripples.
A few pointers before we start:
- Sit comfortably and upright, with your mouth, face, neck, jaw, and shoulders relaxed.
- Breathe through your nose only, no mouth breathing.
- Expand your lower belly outwardly with each inhale (this will activate the safety signals to the regenerating and soothing part of your nervous system).
- Contract your lower belly inwardly with each exhale.
- Try not to move your shoulders, neck, chest, or upper body.
The Sama Vritti Breathing Technique
1. Inhale for four counts
2. Hold for four counts
3. Exhale for four counts
4. Hold for four counts
5. Repeat Steps 1-4 for a minimum of 12 rounds (just over 3 minutes)
If we consider one full series of Sama Vritti a full breath, then that means that all you have to commit to are just 12 breaths out of the 17,280 breaths you take each day.
Take that in… Just 12 out of 17,280.
When you put it like that, it seems pretty doable, right?
Use the breath to turn inwards
We first must commit to implementing these tools and incorporating these practices into our daily lives. This does take work and commitment, but so does everything worthwhile.
One of the central tenets of yoga is to turn your attention and senses away from the external world and towards the inner world.
It’s by going inwards that we can quiet down whatever anxious energy is robbing us of our peace and inner knowing at this moment.
Our breath is the portal through which we begin this inner journey. The beauty of utilizing this deep breathing exercise for stress and anxiety is that you can do them anytime and anywhere.
Give it a try and see what’s possible.