How breathing exercises keep you healthy, stress-free, and ready for your big day
written by Alexandra Sirocky,
holistic entrepreneur and founder of NOMaste
Throughout our lives, we are introduced to a whole variety of rituals. Although many of these traditionally stem from a religious place—think praying before a meal or honoring our respective Gods on holy days—there are so many other examples that you’ve probably never even thought of as “rituals.” Enter intentional breath work.
We breathe all day, every single day and we don’t think twice about the action of doing it. It’s an integral part of our autonomic nervous system which controls everything from your heart rate, to your digestion, to your breath. Without our breath, we’d cease to survive in only a matter of minutes, so why haven’t we looked into breathing more seriously as something to intentionally practice for better health? The ancient yogis did, and their system has finally caught on to the mainstream movement modalities in the West.
Anxiety, high stress, depression, and loneliness are far too common in our society today. In fact, over 20% of adults in America struggle with some kind of mental illness. Scientific evidence shows that intentional breathing exercises, or what is called pranayama in Sanskrit, has incredibly potent health benefits. These include regulating heart rate, lowering blood pressure, improving digestion, decreasing anxiety and depression, relieving stress, boosting the immune system, improving sleep, and even increasing our daily energy resources. Merriam Webster defines ritual as, “the established form for a ceremony” and “an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner.” With these definitions in mind, why can’t we ritualize the act of breathing?!
It’s simple: set the space, create the intention, practice the techniques, and repeat!
“It’s simple: set the space, create the intention, practice the techniques, and repeat!”
From my years of being a yoga instructor, I’ve witnessed how many people struggle with breathing. Oftentimes, when a new student comes into class, I’ll notice they do what's called reverse breathing. This is when your abdomen contracts as you inhale and expands as you exhale. (Hint: it should be the opposite!) I’ve also seen how normal it has become for people to take extremely shallow breaths or to completely hold their breath in challenging yoga poses. Why is this so hard for so many of us? Because just like anything else in life you’d like to master, it takes time, commitment, and practice.
Three of my personal favorite pranayama exercises, or breathing techniques, are:
- Alternate Nostril Breathing aka Nadi Shodhana
- Bumblebee Breath aka Bhramari Breath
- Segmented Breath aka Box Breathing
What happens when you start the ritual of breathing? You see changes within and all around you.
Here are 5 ideas how to incorporate the ritual of breath into your everyday life:
- First thing in the morning, before you have your cup of coffee, sit down and breathe for 3 minutes. Your eyes can be open or closed. Focus solely on breathing as slowly as possible. If you surpass the 3 minute mark easily, up it to 5 or even 10!
- Set an alarm on your phone to go off every hour (or two) during your work day. Take this time to pause for a moment, reflect on how you’re breathing, and challenge yourself to slow it down as much as possible. Inhale as long as you can and then do the same as you exhale. Think of it as an hourly reset for your brain!
- Pick a specific technique that you want to try and stay committed to do it every day for 40 days. After the first 40 days are up, decide if you want to keep going with the current technique or if you want to try something new!
- Create a “zen den” aka a space somewhere in your home that you can call your very own. Decorate this area with your favorite things: candles, pictures, flowers, pillows, comfy blankets, etc. Let this area be your dedicated space to practice your breathing techniques and relax.
- An hour before you go to bed at night, practice your breathing and document your day. Grab your favorite cup of tea, your journal, and enjoy some quiet time before dozing off. Keep a log of how long you practiced the technique, how you felt before vs after, and anything else that may have come up for you. You’ll be surprised how insightful these pages can be into the inner workings of our mind!
Whether you are preparing for a big meeting at work or your wedding day, integrating some intentional breathing exercises can help you stay healthy, happy, and honed in on the more important things in life. When we ritualize the act of breathing, we are nonverbally saying to ourselves that we matter. Remember, it’s not about how long you can practice a technique or how much skill it takes. It’s simply about the act of doing it, of showing up for ourselves, and taking our health into our own hands.
Inhale, exhale. You got this.
NOMaste was founded in 2013 by Alexandra Sirocky, a holistic entrepreneur who embraces a simple approach to living a balanced lifestyle. As a yoga instructor, sound therapist, holistic health coach, retreat leader, artist, photographer, micro-blogger and freelance content curator, her true passion is educating her clients on the importance of SIMPLE self-care. Embracing her mission to “heal yourself, heal the planet,” Alexandra dedicates her work to inspiring a greater sense of global community in service to living in symbiosis.
Follow her on Instagram @nomyogi