By: Kelli Pitrone, Registered Dietitian & Vivante Health Nutrition Team Manager
Relaxation is vital to our overall health. There are lots of calming techniques out there, but if we’re being honest most of them are hard to get into on a regular basis or just downright impractical. (Blow up a balloon when you’re feeling stressed? Sniff something pleasant? Sure, because who doesn’t keep a pack of latex balloons and a scented candle in their pocket at all times?) In this post we’ll give you some practical relaxation tips you can adopt immediately—no weird equipment needed.
In previous posts we talked about how yoga can help calm the mind and body. You might think of yoga as a physical workout, but the practice is comprised of different limbs, one of which is breathing techniques, or pranayama.
Pranayama is simply defined as “the regulation of the breath through certain techniques and exercises.” In yogic breathing, you focus on your inhalations and exhalations, slowing down the mind, imagining the breath flowing through all parts of your body. For some yogic breathing exercises you’re asked to practice breath retention (aka, holding your breath) which helps clear the mind. Regardless of which technique, tapping into the breath is the key to creating a calmness and centeredness.
Depression, Anxiety, and the Breath
More than 41 million Americans take antidepressants as part of their anxiety and depression treatment. Many of them don’t fully respond to their meds, though, and need complementary therapies to control symptoms. Breathing exercises are a free, effective, non-drug approach to helping relieve the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Although yogic breathing has been around for ages and is accessible to all of us, practitioners are just starting to recommend these alternative therapies to their patients on a regular basis. That’s likely because the results are undeniable: in clinical studies, yogic breathing has been shown to drastically improve depression and anxiety symptoms.
Here are a few yogic breathing exercises to get you started. Try them all and pick your favorite. Really, wherever you are, give ’em a go right now.
Equal Wavelength Breathing (Sama Vritti Breathing)
Equal wavelength breathing simply means the inhalations are the same length as the exhalations. Close your eyes and breathe in deeply through your nose while counting 1-2-3. Then exhale through your nose to the same count. This can be done to any count as long as they’re the same for the the breath in and out. This technique is good for times when you need a quick and easy stress buster.
Victorious Breath (Ujjayi Breath)
This style of breathing is meant to bring heat to the body and bring a calm focus to the mind. Slightly constrict the back of your throat and inhale deeply through the nose. Then exhale through the nose and create an audible breath that sounds like ocean waves (or Darth Vader). Think of it like you’re trying to fog up a mirror with each exhalation. This inhale/exhale pattern is especially nice for times when you need to focus or de-stress.
Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)
Taking your right hand, fold in your pointer and middle fingers, leaving the thumb, ring and pinky fingers up. With your thumb, gently close off your right nostril, bringing the breath up the left side. At the top of the breath, switch sides, releasing the thumb and closing off the left nostril with the ring and pinky finger while you exhale through the right nostril. Now inhale through the right nostril, switch at the top and exhale through the left. Continue this alternating pattern to help calm the masculine and feminine aspects of the body, bringing an overall sense of balance.
How and When to Practice
Choose one of these breathing techniques and practice it for 2-3 minutes per day a few times per week to start. TIP: A good time to practice is in the morning right when you wake up, even before you step out of bed. It’ll help to start your day on the right foot.
REMEMBER: Creating calm in the body isn’t just important for your mind but also for your digestive health, as the two are very closely connected. As always, feel free to reach out to the Vivante Care Team with any comments or questions. We’re here for our members 24/7!
About Vivante Health
Vivante Health is an innovative digital healthcare company reinventing the way chronic conditions are managed. Our mission is to fill the unmet needs of people living with chronic conditions that are invisible, neglected, or stigmatized, starting with digestive disease. Our health management ecosystem, GIThrive™, empowers people—through brilliant technology and advanced science—to spend less time worrying about their digestive condition and more time living life.
Yoga for Beginners: Getting Grounded