If you’ve spent any time researching meditative breathing techniques, you’ll know that there are dozens of methods to choose from. Trying to find a technique that works for you can be overwhelming, and it might scare you away from trying. However, you can narrow it down by searching for breathing methods that help with specific issues.
Many breathing techniques are based on the yogic principle of Pranayama, which is the foundation of all yoga practices. Pranayama translates to extending your life force. Because breathing can help you with so many issues, breathing in a specific way will provide you with a greater quality of life and help you get a better handle on the issues you face every day.
Here is a quick guide to some breathing techniques that help reduce stress, raise energy levels, and help you when you’re having trouble sleeping.
Meditative Breathing Techniques to Reduce Stress
You have a lot to worry about on a daily basis, and those worries can quickly become stressful. Most people are looking for ways to reduce stress because they feel like they have too much to do in their lives. At least 24% of America is trying to cope with extreme stress.
Breathing techniques are a great way to reduce the amount of stress in your life. Here are two methods that are particularly useful in dealing with stress.
Abdominal Breathing Technique
Also called diaphragmatic breathing, breathing from your stomach instead of your chest makes your body feel like it’s getting the oxygen it needs. Abdominal breathing helps you physically as well as mentally. It helps relax your fight or flight reflex, and decreases the amount of work your body has to do to get the amount of oxygen you need.
This technique works best when your focus is on breathing from the gut. Make sure your stomach expands when you exhale, and contracts when you inhale. Doing this forces your body to breathe from your diaphragm, instead of your chest like many people are used to doing by default.
For a more thorough rundown of how to institute an abdominal breathing practice, check out our blog post on diaphragmatic breathing and go to the end for a step by step guide.
Nadi Shodhana or “Alternate Nostril Breathing”
Alternate nostril breathing is useful when you need to settle your mind and your emotions. If you’re having a hard time calming your stressful thoughts, Nadi Shodhana can help you calm your mind. Nadi Shodhana roughly translates to “clearing the channels of circulation.”
Trying to practice alternate nostril breathing can be challenging if you’ve never done it before. It works by using your thumb and forefinger to plug one nostril while breathing in through one side, holding your breath while switching sides, and breathing out through the other.
Here’s a more detailed guide to Nadi Shodhana, based on a practice outlined on mindbodygreen.
- Rest your left hand wherever you feel most comfortable.
- Hold up your index and middle finger, like you are showing the number two with your hand. Put those fingers on the bridge of your nose.
- Put your thumb on your right nostril, and hold your ring and pinky finger over your left nostril.
- Close your right nostril with your thumb and inhale gently through the left.
Hold your breath and close your left nostril while releasing the right nostril.
- Exhale through the right nostril.
- Then, inhale through your right nostril.
- Hold your breath and close your right nostril while releasing the left nostril.
- Exhale through the left nostril.
This is one round of alternate nostril breathing. Most people repeat this a few times, and you can repeat it as many times as you are comfortable.
If you need a visual guide to this breathing practice, check out this video guide on alternate nostril breathing. It’s much easier to do than it sounds!
Meditative Breathing to Raise Energy Levels
With all of the stress, sickness, and anxiety that is so common in our lives now, it’s easy to feel exhausted on a regular basis. Many people turn to caffeine or other stimulants to try to wake up enough to go to work or face the day. However, there are some breathing techniques that work to boost energy levels so you don’t need to rely several cups of coffee to get through the day.
Also known as the Bhastrika breath, the bellows breath is a warming breathing technique that was created with the intention of increasing your life force. Bhastrika literally translates to bellows breath, and the motion is similar to that of using bellows to stoke a fire.
The bellows breath is thought to help generate energy, increase core strength, and flush out toxins. This practice tends to invigorate your mind and give you an energy boost. Whatever you do, don’t use this breathing method right before bed, as it will make it difficult to wind down and get to sleep.
To perform the bellows breath, complete the following steps:
- Sit and roll your shoulders back. Keep your head, neck, shoulders, and chest straight and still. You can also do this breath standing up. Bend over slightly, and brace your hands on your thighs before starting this breath.
- Breathe in through your nose a couple of times in short succession and expand your belly as you breathe in.
- Once you feel like you can’t breathe in anymore, create an “o” shape with your mouth and exhale forcefully.
- Complete this cycle 10-20 times. You might feel a little dizzy if you aren’t used to doing this breath. If this is the case, take a few minutes to breathe naturally before trying again.
Skull Shining Breath
The skull shining breath is a more advanced breathing technique. If you are new to breathing, you might want to practice more simple methods before trying this one. The skull shining breath helps release toxins, which also helps get rid of sluggishness and energizes the body. It can also create a surge of heat in the body, similar to the bellows breath.
Also known as “Kapalahbhati” or the skull cleanser, the skull shining breath purifies your mind and body. Kapala translates to skull and bhati means light, and it can help to visualize your skull filling with bright light when doing this breath. As you practice this technique, your focus should be on the exhale. Don’t worry too much about the inhale.
To perform the skull shining breath, take the following steps:
- Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight. Place your hands on your knees, palms up.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose.
- As you exhale, pull your stomach in towards your spine as much as possible. It can help to put your hand on your stomach to feel your muscles go in.
- When you relax your stomach, you should naturally inhale.
- Do this for 20-30 breaths.
Meditative Breathing Techniques to Help You Sleep Better
Many people turn to breathing techniques when they are having trouble sleeping. This is because breathing mindfully can help take your focus off of the racing thoughts that tend to keep you awake at night. Bringing your mind to the present by focusing on your breath takes your thoughts away from the past or the future and forces you to be in the moment.
Here are some of the best breathing methods to help you as you are trying to sleep.
The 4-7-8 breath is one of the easiest breathing techniques to implement. The numbers indicate the amount of time you breathe in, hold your breath, and then breathe out. It does not matter how quickly you breathe, as long as you do what is comfortable for you.
This technique was popularized by Dr. Andrew Weil to help with sleeping issues, and to help bring calm to a frantic mind very quickly. He claims this technique can be more powerful than sleeping medications, and becomes more useful the more times you do it.
To use this method, make sure you are ready to sleep before starting it. Put your tongue on the roof of your mouth and inhale through your nose to the count of 4. Hold to the count of 7, and then exhale through your mouth to the count of 8. Repeat four times.
Sama Vritti or “Equal Breathing”
Sama Vritti is one of the basic forms of pranayama, and can be done anywhere. It has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety quickly, making it a useful tool to have. If anxiety keeps you up at night, this technique can help you. The phrase Sama Vritti is thought to refer to a centering practice that helps calm the mind.
Equal breathing works to balance your body. Breathing in and out for equal counts can help you take your mind off of the racing thoughts that tend to keep you up at night. It also helps you develop good awareness of your breath, which can come in handy if you want to pursue more complicated breathing techniques in the future.
Here’s how to do this technique.
- Find a comfortable position, either sitting cross legged or laying down.
- Close your eyes and take note of your breath. Don’t try to change anything, just notice what is happening in your body.
- After a few moments, inhale deeply to the count of four. Take a moment to pause before you exhale.
- Then, exhale to the count of four. Take a moment to notice how it feels to have empty lungs.
- If four is too short for you, try counting to a larger number. The important thing is to make sure you breathe in and out equally.
It doesn’t matter what breathing method you decide to go with. As long as the practice helps you get what you need, you can play around with different techniques until you find what works best for you.