As a yoga instructor, I often have people approach me and say they could never attend a class because they’re not flexible enough. This is one of the most popular misconceptions about yoga, because honestly, if you can breathe, you can do yoga. Learning how to breathe through stress is one of the most powerful parts of a yoga practice, and all it really requires is for you to be a human being with lungs who is kind of stressed out (I think pretty much everyone’s with me on this one).
There are so many different breathing techniques within yoga that are great to use when you’re battling a stressful situation, ranging from ones that are simple enough for a child to perform, to ones that are a bit more complex and may take some practice to perfect. All of these techniques are used to relieve stress, improve mental clarity, and benefit your overall health.
This practice of controlling your breath in yoga is called “pranayama.” “Prana” means life force or breath sustaining the body, and “ayama” means to extend or draw out.
Essentially, the way you breathe has such a huge impact on how you feel in general, but this is often overlooked by most people. Think about how amazing it feels to breathe a huge sigh of relief when you accomplish a difficult task. Using the full capacity of your breath to quell your anxious emotions is highly calming and restorative to both the mind and body.
According to The Art of Living Foundation, there’s a specific rhythm in the breath for every single emotion. So, while you cannot directly harness your emotions, breathing techniques can help you better understand and overcome them.
If you’ve never practiced pranayama breathing techniques, it’s best to start off under the supervision of an experienced teacher. But there are a few simple techniques that can be implemented on your own to manage stress anytime, anywhere. Here are a few for you to try out yourself.
1. Balanced Breathing (Sama Vritti)
Sama vritti is one of the most basic breathing techniques in yoga. Implementing this kind of breathing will calm your autonomic nervous system, which naturally decreases the amount of stress hormones in your body, according to Verywell.
Simply monitor how long you’re inhaling and exhaling, and try to match the lengths of your breaths. Breathe this way mindfully for a few minutes, really savoring each inhale and exhale.
2. Abdominal Breathing (Adham Pranayama)
Abdominal breathing aids in strengthening the muscles of your diaphragm and makes your overall breathing easier and more efficient over time, as it’ll teach you how to breathe correctly even when you’re not engaging in pranayama.
Adham pranayama also brings a sense of calm to the mind because you’re focusing on your breath and nothing else.
You can practice abdominal breathing lying down or sitting in a comfortable position upright — whatever feels best for you.
3. Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shoddana)
Nadi shoddana is basically every yoga teacher’s best friend. This pranayama reduces anxiety, calms the mind, and makes your entire body feel utterly relaxed.
According to Business Insider, Hillary Clinton used the alternate nostril breathing technique herself to help her chill the f*ck out during the election.
I mean, if this technique calmed Hillary down when she had to deal with debating the Donald on national television, I don’t think there’s stressful situation nadi shoddana can’t help you tackle.
4. Humming Bee Breath (Brahmari)
This breathing technique got its name because you literally sound like a bumble bee while doing it.
Brahmari is incredible for getting rid of frustration and anxiety, letting go of agitation, and releasing anger.
Plus, you’ll be happy to know the humming bee breath is super simple and can be done pretty much anywhere — even at the office, where endless to-do lists and a packed schedule causes tensions to run high.
If you’re worried you’ll look dumb AF in front of your coworkers, know that they’ll probably want to join in after they realize all the benefits this kind of breathing brings.
5. Cooling Breath (Sitali/Sitkari Pranayama)
Sitali and sitkari breathing have a cooling and calming effect on the nervous system. Personally, I literally do feel like my body temperature drops after I do it. Pretty cool, right?
Sitali requires you to be able to curl your tongue, but if you can’t do this, you can opt for sitkari, which provides the same anxiety-reducing effects.
Try this breathing technique during that afternoon slump in the office, when you could use more focus, tension relief, and subtle bodily restoration.
Breathe in, and breathe out. It’s all going to be OK.