Does this sound familiar? Your to-do list is longer than the number of hours in the day and you find it hard to switch off and relax – even at night. Although it may seem like stress has just become a normal part of our hectic lives, this doesn’t mean that you should have to resign yourself to it.
The good news is that there is a simple way to banish stress in just a few minutes – and you can do it on the subway, at the checkout or in the queue at the post office. All you need is your own breathing.
Inner turmoil, racing mind, anxiety – many people will recognise that feeling of losing control. If you asked your yoga teacher for advice, they would come up with hours of meditation exercises, complicated journeys of the mind and advice by the bucket load.
And yet the answer is often surprisingly simple: “Pay attention to your breathing”. It may sound banal at first, but it can have an impressive effect on our general wellbeing.
“Paying attention to your breathing” means becoming mindful of each individual breath you take. Where does the breath begin and where does it end? Where do you feel it most? In the nose? In the throat? Or in your belly?
One of the great side effects is that the feeling of “I can’t stop my thoughts and feelings” gives way to a feeling of control and brings your attention back to the present.
In the present moment, life is available
To keep stress under control on a daily basis, there are many different breathing exercises you can try. Below I will introduce you to two different breathing exercises, which may help you to be more relaxed and mindful in your daily lives.
The main aim of these exercises is to slow down your breathing. When in a relaxed state, men take 16-18 breaths per minute, whilst for women it is 18-20. By slowing our breathing rhythm down to 4-6 breaths, we can also slow down our heart rate (and therefore also our thoughts) to a relaxed level.
For the first exercise, you will split your breaths into four even sections. As you breathe in, count up to four and then hold your breath for four counts. Breathe out, counting up to four as you do so, and then hold your breath for another four counts.
This exercise will draw your attention away from negative thoughts and feelings and make you concentrate on your breathing instead. This will not only calm your mind, it will also relax your entire body at the same time.
You have probably already heard that you should be breathing through your nose and not your mouth. But did you know that it also matters which nostril you breathe through? Finding that hard to believe? It's probably best that you try it out for yourself. Next time you feel stressed, try breathing only through your left nostril. To do this, you can, for example, press on the right side of your nose. Do you notice how your body and mind relax?
The reason why breathing through your left nostril leaves you feeling relaxed, whilst breathing through the right nostril acts like an accelerator pedal, is down to the connection between the nose and the brain: each nostril is linked with the corresponding area of the brain. The left nostril is therefore linked to the parasympathetic nervous system, which reduces body temperature and blood pressure and reduces anxiety. This will make your body feel relaxed.
Our breathing is an important constant, and we can think about it to help us find inner peace, whenever and wherever we may be. During particularly stressful and intense phases of our lives, it can help us keep track of our inner balance. Special breathing exercises can provide valuable support with this.