Breathing Techniques To Calm The Nervous System
Breathing Techniques To Calm The Nervous System

Breathing Techniques To Calm The Nervous System

Breathing is a natural reflection of the current state of our body and mind. Our pace of breathing changes depending on how we’re feeling at the time – whether that’s relaxed, stressed or in between. And, though it is an automatic reaction that we don’t even have to think about, once we find the time to tune in, we can unlock its powerful healing abilities for our mental and physical health.

As the easiest, most accessible and often most powerful form of healing, studies have shown that breathing exercises can relieve feelings of stress and anxiety by removing mental blocks and allowing you to think more clearly. Our brain associates different emotions with different breathing patterns, making breathing exercises a useful tool to help us understand how we’re feeling and apply effective coping mechanisms to counteract negative feelings.

In this blog, I’ll be sharing a few of my favourite breathing techniques for reducing anxiety and promoting calm. I hope you find them useful!

Breathing techniques

Breath in Through The Nose and Out Through The Mouth

One of the most common techniques, breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth is a great way to relieve feelings of stress, anxiety and panic. You can get the most benefit by making it a part of your daily routine. This technique can be done standing up, sitting or lying down. Begin by breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth for a consistent length of time, like 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out. After repeating this exercise in a cycle of at least 5 minutes, you’ll feel much more relaxed and ready to overcome the barriers that were once in your way.

I find this method helps when I am feeling restless and finding it difficult to focus when meditating. Whilst meditation is a calming practice in itself, it can be easy to get distracted and struggle to find the inner peace that is required for a really fulfilling session. Thankfully, this breathing technique really helps me to circle back and refocus when I feel agitated or unsettled during a meditation.

Many basic breathing techniques like this one are also being incorporated into popular apps like the Mindfulness feature on the Apple Watch, which includes a ‘Breath Session’. If you’ve already got an Apple Watch or a similar wearable device, you can set a reminder to do this every day, which is a great way to ensure you’re consistently incorporating breathing techniques into your daily routine!

Diaphragmatic Breathing

A slightly more advanced breathing technique that also uses the in through the nose and out through the mouth method is diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing or abdominal breathing. This technique helps you to connect with your diaphragm and train it to open up to your lungs so you can tune into your entire body and breathe more deeply and efficiently. The basis of many relaxation techniques, diaphragmatic breathing has many positive physical benefits, like increasing oxygen in the blood and reducing your heart rate and blood pressure, all of which help you to relax.

This technique is easy and involves a simple method – breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Once you’ve got yourself in a comfortable sitting or lying position, the first step is to relax your shoulders and place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Next, without straining, breathe in as much air as you can through your nose. As you do, take note of the air moving through your nostrils and into your diaphragm, as your stomach expands and your chest remains still. As you exhale, purse your lips and breathe out for 4 seconds through the small hole you’ve created as your stomach gently contracts. Repeat these steps a few times for the best results.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

I like to do this breathing exercise when I’m feeling overwhelmed by a situation or task and I need to bring myself back to the present moment and start afresh. Encouraging feelings of renewal, this method puts me in a better position to approach the challenge again with a clear mind.

Alternate-Nostril Breathing

Forming part of Pranayama (yoga breathing practices) and also known as nadi shodhana, alternate-nostril breathing is used not just in yoga, but mindfulness and relaxation methods, too. Deep-rooted in ancient traditions, this method works to recognise and channel the feminine and masculine energies; with the breath creating balance between the two sides. As the name suggests, this technique involves breathing through alternate nostrils, one side at a time. By controlling your breath and focusing your attention, this method of deep breathing has many positive effects on the body and mind including regulating the nervous system, lowering blood pressure, improving overall breath quality (if actioned regularly), and reducing symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Begin by pressing your right thumb on your right nostril, close your eyes and exhale slowly through your left nostril. Once you’ve exhaled fully, you can move onto the other side and place your ring finger on your left nostril, inhale through your right nostril and release. Repeat the process by placing your right thumb on your right nostril and so forth. You can do this 3-5 times, but research shows you’ll reap the most benefits if you continue for around 10 minutes.

As an avid yogi, alternate-nostril breathing is a method that I regularly apply to my yoga practice. It helps me to generate the right mindset and take notice of my breath so I can sync my breathing with each movement. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is focusing on their wellness or using meditative techniques like yoga to connect the body and mind – particularly if you are practising vinyasa. 

My pet dog

My Practices

In addition to breathing, there are a few activities that I like to do to stay calm and centred.  These include practising yoga, going to the gym, playing the guitar and spending time with my dog. These activities help to clear my head and reach a peaceful and graceful state of mind.

Breathwork can be a great way to gain better control over your physical and mental wellbeing. Having incorporated all of these techniques into my practices and witnessed how effective they can be in keeping me calm and centred, I would highly recommend trying them out for yourself! 

Or, if you’re already using breathing methods like these and would like to explore some more complex techniques, I’d recommend holotropic breathwork, which I explored in a previous blog

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© 2022. TanyaS.Mansotra

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