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Breathing Practices to Ease Anxiety.



In my last blog I explained how Yoga Therapy which includes the practice of yoga, breathwork, mindfulness and more can help alleviate anxiety – whether a diagnosed anxiety disorder or state anxiety which tends to arise in response to an event or trigger (exams!).

Rolling out our yoga mats and moving through a flowing Vinyasa practice or relaxing in calming longer holds can be great stress busting techniques but if you only have a few moments to spare and movement isn’t an option then a shorter breath led practice might be ideal.



It doesn’t have to be complicated. Sitting or lying down – simply placing one hand on your abdomen and one on your chest and drawing your awareness to the inhalation and exhalation and movement in the abdomen can be soothing. You could also add a positive mantra in time with the inhalation and exhalation as an additional way to encourage focus and present moment awareness. I find the words “I Inhale calm, I exhale stress” useful but you could choose others which resonate.


Other Breathing Techniques


1. Alternate Nostril Breathing – Nadi Shodhana - a calming and balancing breathing technique which is useful to ease racing/anxious thoughts, alleviate stress and help with difficulties sleeping.


There are numerous ways to practice alternate nostril breathing but the aim is the same, namely, to balance and regulate the flow of air through the nasal passages and restore balance in the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The right-side nostril is connected to the analytical and energetic left side brain and the left side nostril to the creative and relaxing right side brain. In our busy fast paced lives, we tend to spend more time engaging the analytical left side brain creating an imbalance. Before you start, try breathing in and out through each nostril and make a mental note of which side is dominant, i.e., easier to breathe through! See if you notice a difference at the end of the practice and at different times of the day.


In addition to lengthening the breath, regulating the autonomic nervous system, and providing balance both energetically and physiologically, alternate nostril breathing enhances our ability to focus our mind, to be present and to reduce anxious rumination.


How to practice?

Next time you are facing an exam, important meeting or feeling anxious you could try a few rounds of alternate nostril breathing. Sitting comfortably, place your left hand in your lap and use the ring finger of the right hand to open and close the left nostril and right thumb to open and close the right nostril. You could lightly rest the first two fingers in the centre of your brow (as an anchor) or turn them down.

. inhale

. close your right nostril and exhale through the left.

. inhale through the left nostril

. close the left nostril and exhale through the right.

. inhale through the right nostril

. close the right nostril and exhale through the left.

Continue for a few minutes. Eventually you could add retention of the breath where you close both nostrils inbetween sides and invite a brief pause.

You could start by matching the length of inhalation with exhalation and then gradually journey towards lengthening the exhalation on a 1:2 basis so inhale for two breaths and exhale for four.


2. Humming Bee Breath – Brahmari Pranayama – in addition to calming the mind this fun breathing technique also quietens the senses which are often over stimulated and distracted in our busy world.

On the exhalation we invite a deep humming sound which is great to focus on, withdraw from our often-sensory overload, soothe anxiety, and possibly alleviate migraines (including that annoying tension migraine).

A great practice to explore with children and teens who seem to enjoy humming enthusiastically!


How to practice?

. Sitting comfortably take an inhalation and on the exhalation make a humming sound. Don’t lengthen the exhalation unnecessarily and relax the face and jaw.

. You can close your eyes and gently cover your ears so that the humming creates an internal vibration through the body which may stimulate the vagus nerve regulating the calming parasympathetic nervous system.


Start with half a dozen Brahmari exhalations and increase that to a couple of minutes over time.


As with Alternate Nostril Breathing the aim is to invite balance and calm the senses. Other benefits include improving mental clarity and focus (as you shut out outside distractions), reducing high blood pressure, and improving symptoms of hypertension.


3. Box Breathing – Sama Vritti Pranayama – well endorsed by the Navy Seals and others in high stress jobs who practice this “four square breathing” to provide calm when faced with a stressful situation.

“Sama” means equal and “vritti” means flow/movement.

The term “box breathing” encourages visualising an equal four-sided shape when practising this breathing.


How to practice?

. sitting comfortably breathe in for the count of four.

. retain the breath for the count of four.

, exhale for the count of four

. hold the breath out for the count of four.

Continue.


Other benefits include improving lung capacity and encouraging present moment focus.


Much of what we do when we practice yoga on our mats encourages a sense of calm and balance physically, mentally, and energetically but it is awareness of the ability to take that off the mat and regulate our emotions and reactions in anxious/stressful situations that enables us to truly benefit from our yoga practice.

As Alice in Alice in Wonderland said,

"Time is a gift. Every minute. Every second." However short we are for time a quick breath practice has the ability to help us feel calmer and more at ease with ourselves in and how we react to triggers.


Should you wish to join me in person to practice these breathing techniques you can do so on two 2023 upcoming workshops:-

Saturday 16th September 2-4.30pm

Saturday 25th November 2-4.30pm

Both are at Globe House Yoga - a hidden gem in the heart of London near London Bridge, The Shard and Tate Museum. Get in touch to book your place. £35 each or £60 for both


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