The new year can be an exciting time, but it can also be a time where stress and anxiety run rampant.
With heightened activity and high expectations for the new year, this time of year can lead to major stress and anxiety.
However, taking a few minutes everyday to focus on your breath can not only help you stay present during this busy time, but to also reduce your stress and anxiety as you head into 2022.
For centuries we have used breath to slow down and hit the pause button on stress and anxiety and if you’re feeling the pressure of this time of year, this might be the perfect time to cultivate on your pranayama practice.
Here are 4 simple yoga breathing exercises that can help you keep a clear mind and reduce your anxiety.
4 Simple Yoga Breathing Exercises
Let’s kick it off with a simple but powerful practice- the relaxation breath.
If you are feeling stressed and anxious, or maybe you are finding yourself with a racing mind at night when you should be sleeping this breath is for you.
This practice is one that is good for any time we are feeling overly stimulated or activated and need to relax.
The practice of this breath is quite simple- just make your exhales longer than your inhales.
Typically in a 4-8 count where you inhale for a count of four, and exhale for a count of 8.
Although this exact count may not feel natural to you, feel free to change the count of the inhale and the exhale so it feels good and nourishing, just make sure that your exhale is longer than your inhale so you can get the calming effects of this pranayama practice.
Take time to connect with your breath and slow down your rate of breath until you find a natural and effortless rhythm.
Then begin this breath by inhaling for a count of four, making sure you are filled up all the way when you reach four, then take a long exhale for a count of eight.
Practice this pranayama for 5-10 minutes or until you begin to feel the calming effects. You may also find this breath is helpful for insomnia if you’re up late at night.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
The ultimate mind clearing pranayama practice is alternate nostril breathing.
This breath utilizes alternating the nostrils you breathe in and out of to bring clarity to your mind, and to activate and balance both sides of your brain.
Alternate nostril breathing is especially useful for settling restlessness and lack of focus or bringing you into the present moment when you’re feeling pulled in a million directions.
To practice alternate nostril breathing you will use the thumb and ring finger on your right hand and will alternate which nostril you breathe in and out of.
begin by exhaling all of the air out of your lungs, with your ring finger close the left nostril and inhale through the right nostril, then close the right nostril with your thumb and exhale through the left, inhale through the left, then close the left nostril with your ring finger and exhale through the right.
Do this 10-12 times. Feeling stuffing this winter? Add a drop of eucalyptus or your favorite respiratory essential oil blend to your hands before you practice to open up the nasal passages.
Another simple and powerful practice for reducing your stress and anxiety is the 3-part breath which works on breath control as well as utilizing a long exhale to help you release tension from your body and mind.
This practice segments the inhale into three equal parts to energize the body and strengthen the respiratory system and then utilizes one long, full exhale to soothe the body and mind and release tension.
During this pranayama practice you will inhale in three parts where you take in ⅓ of your lung capacity at a time.
It can be a little tricky at first, but you will quickly get the hang of it, then after inhaling into 3 equal parts you will take a long, slow breath out until you are completely empty of air.
Begin by exhaling all of the air out of your lungs, then inhale one third, inhale another third, and inhale a final third (you should feel completely full of breath at this point) and then take one long, full exhale out relaxing the body and mind.
Repeat this as many times as you would like with a three-part inhale and a long exhale out until you feel the sensation of a quiet, calm energy move through you.
If you want a variation on this breath you can inhale and exhale in 3 parts to really work on your breath control and concentration.
Belly Breath with Mantra
A simple belly breath can be one of the most powerful breaths of all, and the best part is you are probably already doing this one.
By slowing down your breath and driving it down into your belly to activate this diaphragmatic breathing you will be turning down the volume on your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and activate your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest.)
It has been shown that belly breathing can effectively reduce your anxiety and shut off your fight or flight response.
If you take this practice and add a soothing mantra you will quickly be in store for some major relaxation.
Begin by taking a few minutes to slow down your breathing, and send the breath down low into your belly.
Focus on the natural rise and fall of the belly as you breathe in and breathe out.
Begin incorporating a soothing mantra on the inhale and exhale like inhale- I am at peace exhale- I am relaxed. Or inhale- think calm, and exhale- think stillness or you can use any other mantra you like and sync it up with your belly breathing.
Bonus- if you want some extra stress relief pranayama this winter you can try this 10 minute guided belly breathing meditation on my podcast, Mindful in Minutes.