The Power Of Breath: How Breathing Can Help With Anxiety, Tension And Mindset

Every morning after I brush my teeth, I crawl under the still warm blanket, put a few pillows behind my back to straighten my spine and cross my legs in a yogi fold. I put a video on my phone, close my eyes and open them 10 minutes later ready for the day ahead. During those 10 minutes, I do one simple thing – I breathe.

Yep, I am surprised, and glad, to say this – I now do breathing exercises every morning. And so should you!

But you know how to breathe…

If breathing exercises are not your jam, I totally get it. Like, 100%! I was like you not long ago. In fact, the first time I must have tried this type of exercise was more than 7 years ago during a random yoga class. During that one, and most of the yoga classes that followed, I did not enjoy being told how to breathe, how long to exhale and how long to hold. In fact, most of the time, the hold was too long for me and I ended up *very silently* inhaling before the official instructions. I felt like a cheater, or worse – like I have failed the activity. And let me tell you – you can’t feel any benefits of breathing if you feel like you are doing it wrong. I often thought to myself, “Why am I even doing this?! I already know how to breathe!”. Probably you have thought that, too. But do you really know how to breathe?

Why practice breathing

There are two types of breathing: chest (thoracic) and abdominal (diaphragmatic). The majority of people breathe predominantly with the chest. However, this habit not only reduces your breathing capacity but also could result in an elevation in feelings of anxiety and distress. Chest breathing is unhealthy but so common that we never notice that something is wrong with it. In fact, we learn to breathe this way in early childhood and the cause for that is mostly stress. The good news is that with practice we can learn to include more abdominal breathing in our lives and the benefits of that effort are significant. Reducing stress levels and anxiety, promoting a more relaxed state of the body (muscles and arteries included), increasing energy levels and significantly lowering high blood pressure are all examples of the positive effects of breathing exercises.

Now let’s take a look at very simple and specific breathing exercises you can do for relaxation, relieving anxiety and facilitating a change of mindset.

Release tension with abdominal breathing

If you are prone to headaches, to carrying tension in your shoulders and chest, or if you feel an overall tightness in your upper body, you can benefit from abdominal breathing. The aim of this exercise is to increase the oxygen intake in the body by utilising the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles. It will release muscle tension and improve blood flow to all muscles in your body. Here is how you can practise abdominal breathing:

  1. Lay comfortably on the floor and place one hand on your chest and one on your belly. Breathe normally and identify which part of your body (chest or belly) expands on your inhales.
  2. Take a deep breath through your nose and intentionally guide it to your belly. The hand on your abdomen should raise more than the one which is on your chest. Breathe out through your mouth. At first, your belly might expand just a little bit and that’s okay. You will be able to take deeper breaths with practice. Repeat this step two more times to understand how it feels to breathe with your belly.
  3. Now place both hands on your belly. Take deep breaths in through the nose, hold for a beat and then exhale gently through the mouth. Repeat this step for 3 – 5 minutes every day to start feeling the benefits of abdominal breathing.

Breathing for anxiety

If you ever feel anxious about a certain situation such as public speaking, a business meeting or a date, or if you are prone to anxiety like me, then square breathing can help you slow down your breath which in return signals to the body that it is not in danger. This helps to seize and manage the anxiety, as well as to minimise some of its common symptoms such as shallow breathing, sweating and a feeling of panic. Follow these steps to practise square breathing:

  1. Gently inhale to the count of 4.
  2. Hold your breath for 4 seconds.
  3. Slowly exhale to the count of 4.
  4. Hold your breath for 4 seconds.
  5. Repeat as many times as needed until you feel calmer.

Note: I love this exercise and use it in a variety of situations: while waiting for my turn to present something at work, at the queues in the airport, before delivering training sessions or having job interviews. You don’t have to drop on the ground and close your eyes. Simply count to 4 and focus on your breath.

Breathing for mindset shifts

The breath can also be a powerful vehicle for change. In a way, our bodies are renewed with each new inhale. We can learn to combine breathing, meditation and affirmations to shift our mindset to a more preferred state. You can use one of the exercises below to help you focus and make a mindset shift, or you can tweak them and make them your own:

Version 1:

  1. Sit comfortably and straighten your spine. Take a few deep belly breaths to relax your body (see the first breathing exercise for tips).
  2. As you breathe in, say “I am calm (insert preferred feeling).
  3. Exhale gently through the mouth while visualising how all of the stress (any feeling you want to release) leaves your body with your breath.
  4. Repeat until your feel the shift of energy in your mind and body.

Version 2:

  1. Take in a few deep belly breaths to connect to your body and to the present moment.
  2. With the next inhale, say “I breathe in love (insert preferred feeling)”.
  3. With the exhale, say “I let go of the sadness (insert the feeling you want to release). You can also use “I release all sadness.”.
  4. Repeat until your feel the shift of energy in your mind and body.

Note: I practise the second version during my morning walks. My affirmation is “I breathe in all the possibilities”, and my release phrase is “I release all the blocks”.

Breathing is a powerful tool for mindfulness, relaxation and for connecting with the present moment. This is no surprise – breathing sustains us and keeps us alive, it literally moves our live energy inside of our bodies. Learning the three breathing exercises in this article can really help you overcome common human challenges in a simple, free and easy way.

Remember to breathe, my friends! That’s all! ❀️

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