A Path to Ease Stress and Anxiety in a Hectic World
In this frantic world, so many of us are dealing with stress, anxiety, and a pressing need for more calm. So many people find themselves on the yoga mat to help soothe these uncomfortable emotions.
Breath as a Lifeline: Managing Anxiety Anywhere, Anytime
While there are definitely calming yogic practices to reduce anxiety, what if you don’t have time to make it to the mat because you’re about to head into a high-stakes meeting, trapped in traffic, or fried from a jam-packed day?
The solution lies within your breath. Your breath has the power to influence your emotions and regulate your nervous system. If you bring attention to your breath, your heart rate decreases, your breathing slows down, and you begin to feel grounded and calmer.
Anytime you feel your nerves starting to get the best of you, turn to your breath. In my book Yoga Life, I share this technique, which I call Breath Awareness. All you need to do is pull your awareness down to the breath in your body and ask yourself:
- Am I breathing fast or slowly?
- Is my breath dry or moist?
- Do I feel the breath in my belly or my chest?
Paying attention to your breath is the first habit to cultivate in combating anxiety. Rather than spiraling, you can literally use your breath to change the situation. Sophie Jaffe, wellness expert and founder of Philosophie Superfoods says, “The strongest nervous system in the room always wins. When you take a moment to calm yourself down, it not only benefits you but everyone around you.”
The next time you feel your anxiety flare up, try one of these three breathing techniques, anytime, anywhere.
1. Padadhirasana – Armpit Breath
This is the perfect breathing practice to get your nervous system back in balance. The secret lies in your armpit, which has a bundle of nerves that communicate with your nervous system.
You can do it anywhere, simply by crossing your arms:
- Cross your arms over your chest and place your hands under your armpits, thumbs up. (The bottom arm will experience a bit more pressure than the top arm, so stay aware of this.)
- Close your eyes and take five to ten deep breaths, inflating the belly, then the chest, Exhale fully.
- Uncross your arms and then switch which arm is under and which is over, then take five to ten more deep breaths for a balancing effect.
Think of this technique as a magic trick to soothe your anxiety. Whether you’re sitting in a never-ending meeting, stuck on the subway, or just need a nervous system reset, you can use this as your go-to nervous system soother.
2. Sigh It Out
Do you feel your whole being bracing whenever anxiety creeps in? You’re not alone. Most of us have a habitual bracing pattern—an ingrained response that’s triggered by anxiety. Maybe you start holding your breath, elevate your shoulders, and grab your phone for distraction.
The next time this happens, try this breathing technique instead:
- First, inhale fully through the nose, deep into the belly.
- Then, exhale through the mouth, stretching your jaw wide and softening your neck.
- Let out a long, audible sigh.
- Repeat three more times.
Sighing slows down your exhalation, which regulates your nervous system. Think of this as an override to your entire system that tells your nervous system to relax. A series of long, slow exhalations through the mouth means you’ll feel calmer soon. The best part? This technique is so subtle, you can practice it all day long without anyone being the wiser.
3. Sitali/Sitkari – Taco Breathing
Taco breathing works with an open-mouthed inhalation that is cooling and calming. This is a go-to breathing technique anytime you’re feeling in need of some chill.
- Curl your tongue into a taco shape so the left and right sides are higher than the middle. Stick your U-shaped tongue out slightly. Inhale through an O-shaped mouth. Let the air feel cold as it rushes over your tongue and teeth.
- Exhale slowly through your nose. Repeat.
If curling your tongue doesn’t work for you, bring your teeth almost together instead and think of taking a long sip of air in, as if through an imaginary straw. The goal is to feel cool air over your tongue.
4. Krama – Three-Part Breath
Three-Part Breath (Krama) is soothing and draws your attention inward. It’s a great one to do before bed or to wind down from a stressful day as it’s deeply relaxing and can help you fall asleep effortlessly.
- Challenge yourself to deeply inhale, pausing three times as you fill up with breath.
- Inhale into your lower belly, expanding it. Pause.
- Inhale into your ribs and back body, filling up laterally. Pause.
- Inhale into your collarbones and chest, taking in as much air as you can. Pause.
- Exhale and let all that air go in one long, smooth breath (similar to Sigh It Out).
If this feels challenging, lie down in bed and place a book on your belly. Practice inhaling so the book moves up in space toward the ceiling each time you breathe in and down toward the bed each time you breathe out. This will help you strengthen your diaphragm.
Tips for Practicing These Techniques
- There’s no set length to see results from these breathing techniques. Every moment counts. Remember: just observing your breath already benefits your nervous system and reduces anxiety.
- Practice anytime, anywhere. You can be seated, standing, or lying down on your couch.
- As yoga teacher and travel writer Taylor Lorenz said, “Don’t expect yourself to be perfect. Don’t expect yourself to show up exactly as planned. Life happens and yoga is all about adjusting to your life, its seasons, your emotions, and all.” Anxiety happens and using yogic breathing techniques, wherever you are, can be a way to show yourself compassion.
- Observe your breath throughout your day-to-day life and you will notice a difference in your anxiety levels. Remember, simply noticing your breath is proven to activate your nervous system’s relaxation response.
Awareness of the breath is your lottery ticket to freedom from anxiety. Believe it or not, yoga is the superstar of exercise because of this deep body-breath connection. Actually, holding an awareness of your breath is yoga – and you can do that anywhere, both on and off the mat.
Ancient yogic wisdom offers us a lifeline for navigating the stress of modern life, from anxiety to overwhelm. It’s possible to garner the tools to help you navigate all of these stages. Learn to Live Your Yoga with my new book Yoga Life: Habits, Poses, And Breathwork To Channel Joy Amidst The Chaos