And relax.....Breathing exercises to help you chill out this January
January can be a stressful month – ok, so it's the start of a new year, which is really positive, but it's also the time after the festivities when we all feel a little bit blue, and a little bit broke! You're back at work and it's busier than ever, bills are mounting and for many of us, it can be a long month financially. If you're feeling the pressure of a million deadlines and can't stretch to that long-awaited spa break just yet, there are ways you can relax, for free!
Breathing exercises are a great way to instil feelings of calm if you're overwhelmed – all you need is a quiet (ish) space and around 10 minutes of free time. Some of these ideas incorporate techniques used in meditation and yoga, so they can be combined with your meditative or yoga practise for the ultimate downtime!
The benefits of controlled breathing
Controlling your breathing can help your mind and body to function optimally, whilst promoting feelings of relaxation, lowering your blood pressure (great for your heart) and helping you to de-stress. The effects of controlled breathing on anxiety aren't conclusive, but health experts recommend using breath control to relax and increase mindfulness, which can dispel negativity and quash anxiety. It can take time and energy to master controlled breathing techniques; we promise the results are worth it!
#1. Abdominal Breathing
Normally, when we breathe, our chest inflates and our shoulders rise. If you've ever been to singing lessons as a child (or an adult), you have probably already been taught this technique, which uses the diaphragm (under your rib cage) to control breathing. Place one hand on your belly and one on your chest, then take a deep breath in through your nose. Your diaphragm should inflate, whilst your chest stays virtually still. Spend ten minutes each day practising, taking six slow, deep breaths in and out per minute, through your nose. You'll notice reduced blood pressure and heart rate as well as increased feeling of relaxation. This is perfect to use before a stressful event, such as that important work presentation!
#2. Equal Breathing
Yoga is all about creating balance within the body, and equal breathing aims to do just that. This can be used in conjunction with meditation, to still your body and mind. Get comfortable and inhale to a count of four, slowly exhaling to a count of four. You should be breathing in and out through your nose, to reduce your stress levels and increase your focus. This is an especially beneficial breathing technique to try if you are struggling to drift off to sleep. After a relaxing bedtime routine such as having a bath, reading, or whatever works for you, focusing on your breathing can help to calm your mind and drift off to a great night's sleep.
#3. Progressive Relaxation
Hypnotherapists and many other therapists swear by this technique to help patients release tension and relax before or during a session. We've tried this ourselves, and we have to say, it works every time! The main thing to focus on is tensing and relaxing your muscles. Close your eyes and start at your feet, slowly tensing them for a few seconds, then relax, whilst taking slow, deep breathes in and out through your nose. Gradually move up the body to the legs, bum, tummy, chest etc. until you reach your face. You'll be amazed how good it feels to relax each muscle group in turn! This is a great technique to use at bedtime, before meditating or even at your desk, if you're starting to feel stressed and unhappy at work.
#4. Guided Visualisation
You'll find plenty of apps, podcasts and CDs offering relaxing guided visualisation, or you could record your own track or visit a therapist. The idea is to replace negativity with happy, positive images which can help boost your mood, fight depression and anxiety and leave you feeling relaxed. By using guided visualisation, your mind is focusing on where you want to be, rather than dwelling on negative thoughts. A word of warning though, you'll need to be somewhere you can close your eyes safely, so don't try this whilst driving your car! Visualisation can also be used to positively visualise your wants and goals in life, and it's believed that doing so can help you to achieve them.
#5. Alternate Nostril Breathing
Favoured by yogis, this traditional breathing technique is reputed to leave you feeling blissfully calm and balanced. It's also said to bring the left and right sides of your brain together in harmony and help you to focus. For the best results, we recommend adopting a comfortable pose – sitting down as you would do for meditation is ideal. Now, cover your right nostril with your right thumb, inhaling deeply through your left nostril. As you're reaching the peak of inhalation, close your left nostril with your ring finger, exhaling through your right nostril. Continue this pattern for as long as feels comfortable. This is a great technique to try in the morning, as it's said to be energising and can help you focus. If you've given up or cut back on caffeine after New Year, this can really help!