Yoga Breathing Exercises and Techniques for Stress, Sleep & Anxiety

How you breathe is how you live

Did you know that poor posture, stress, unhealthy lifestyle, lack of movement and many more reasons result in a pathological breath? Even more – I can confidently say that most people breathe incorrectly throughout the day.

According to the yogic teachings, breath is prana – our vital force, the flow of energy. Swami Satyananda Saraswati says that physical activity, sleep, work, intake of food, sexual relations, all affect the distribution of prana. However, faculties of the mind, such as thought, emotion, imagination, affect the pranic body, even more, resulting in people being “energetically drained”, it even leads to metabolic dysfunction. Techniques of pranayama reverse this process. 

What is Pranayama

In simple words, it’s conscious breathing and one of the 8 limbs of yoga. Yogic breathing techniques(or Pranayama), help to improve the quality of your breathing and honestly a quality of your life. Through a number of breathing exercises working on strengthening the muscles of the respiratory system.

Conscious breathing is focusing on expanding the work of the lungs, increasing the capacity, and most importantly improving the work of the respiratory system, which leads to the relaxation and focused mind.

Breath is the most vital process in the body

Remember that breathing is the most vital process in the body. It is linked to the performance of the brain, fills the cells of the body with the oxygen. Most of us are breathing incorrectly, we are using only a very small part of the lungs. 

This is what happens, when you are under stress – the brain says “danger”, all systems switch into the danger mode, your breathing frequency increases, digestion slows down, sugar released in the bloodstream followed by insulin secretion, heart rate goes up, blood pressure rises, muscles tighten – switching your sympathetic nervous system on, you are ready to fight or flight. 

The good news is you can help to control it, through conscious breathing. If you bring your awareness to your breath and start slowing it down by making deep, rhythmic and slow breath, your body will receive signals to calm down and relax – switching your parasympathetic nervous system on.

Conscious breath and some advanced breathing techniques can even help to remove old emotional and psychological pain and trauma. However, we will begin with the basic breathing techniques, what you can implement wherever you are. 

But first start noticing how you breathe during the day, when you are calm, when you are happy, stressed, worried.

Types of breathing techniques

Breath is very powerful, it can help you to calm down, but as well it can energise and create heat for you, it can help to detoxify the body as well. 

A. Breathing techniques for relaxation, sleep, anxiety and peace of mind:

  • 4-7-8 breathing
  • Alternate nostril breathing
  • Ujjai breath
  • Full yogic breath
  • 2x times extended exhale

B. Breathing techniques for energy:

  • Lion’s breath or Simhasana pranayama
  • Fire breath or Kapalbhati
  • Bellows breath or Bhastrika 
  • Humming bee or bhramari

C. Breathing techniques for detoxification:

  • Lions breath
  • Udhiyana bandha
  • Fire breath – Kapalbhati

In this article, I am focusing solely on breathing for stress, anxiety and sleep. For detoxification and energy breathing techniques, please subscribe to the newsletter and receive the article straight into your inbox.

Enough theory, let’s start breathing!

In this part we are going to learn 5 breathing techniques, you can choose any 3 if you are a beginner, or you can complete all of them. If you are experienced, you can go from 2 to 5 cycles each technique you choose.

Remember 1 cycle is 5 breaths.

When one is complete begin the next one, do not mix those up.

Let’s say you do 3 cycles of 3 techniques, so it comes up to:

5 breaths(in each cycle) * 3 cycles * 3 techniques = 45 breaths

  1. Ujjai breath
  2. Alternate nostril breathing
  3. 4-7-8 breath
  4. Full yogic breath
  5. 2x times extended exhale

You can practice this pranayama before going to bed, also any time you feel stressed, anxious, worried, nervous. You can just slow down and extend your exhale, as in technique 3 and 5. These two techniques are not visible for others, and you can practice it anywhere.

  1. Ujjai breath Technique:

Ujjai breath – is also called tranquilising breath, this breath is heating the body, however, it has a calming effect, by soothing the nervous system and slowing down the heart rate, it has a profoundly relaxing effect on a psychic level.

Sit in a comfortable position or stand with feet hip-width apart. 

Start whispering any word, and feel the sensation in your throat. Do you notice how you contracting your throat to make the sounds? 

Now try to close your mouth, inhale and when you exhale pronounce this word with your mouth closed. 

When you feel you are ready to move on, keep the contraction in the throat and begin inhaling and exhaling. 

Your breaths will be slower than usual, which is normal.

If you are doing it correctly, you should be able to hear your inhale and exhale.

2. Alternate nostril Technique:

Sit in a comfortable position, and put your left hand on your left knee in chin mudra(touch your index finger with your thumb)

Put your right index finger and middle finger on your third eye area

Close your left nostril with your right thumb

Inhale with your left nostril on 4 counts, close it

Hold the breath on 7 counts(or whatever is comfortable for you)

Open your right nostril, exhale

Inhale through your right nostril on 8 counts, close it

Hold the breath on 7 counts

Open your left nostril, exhale on 8 counts

This is 1 round, completed. Repeat 5 times.

3. 4-7-8 breath

Sit comfortably, or stand with your feet hip-width apart. However you can also practice this breathing when you are in bed and can’t sleep, so laying down is fine too.

Inhale on 4 counts

Hold your breath on 7 counts

Exhale on 8 counts

Repeat 5 times

4. Full yogic breath

This breath is teaching us how to use 100% of our lungs. Full yogic breath also activates the diaphragm more intensely, so the entire respiratory muscular system is engaged.

! this just an exercise, you should breathe this throughout the day!

Begin full yogic breath lying down on your back. When you feel you are ready, transition to a seated position, but it’s easier to learn this particular technique laying down.

So sit cross-legged or lie down on your back

We are going to inhale in 3 rounds:

  1. Start inhaling using your belly
  2. When it’s full, inhale more through your chest
  3.  When it’s full, try to inhale a tiny bit more, to fill in your throat too

Exhaling is also happening in 3 rounds, in the reverse order:

  1. Start exhaling with your throat, then chest
  2. Keep exhaling down to your belly
  3. Make your belly completely empty, when its sucked in a little

Round 1 completed. Repeat 5 times

5. 2x times extended exhale

Same as 4-7-8 breathing, you can do this technique when you are in bed, or in any stressful situation.

The name speaks for itself, we are going to exhale 2 times longer than inhale.

Usually, if you are a beginner start with 4-8(inhale on 4, exhale on 8).

Inhale on 4 counts

Exhale on 8 counts

If you feel you can increase, begin the next round 5-10.

Full exercise includes 4 IN – 8 OUT, and finish 5 rounds on 10 IN – 20 OUT

If it’s too hard for you, do all 5 rounds on 4 IN – 8 OUT.

Repeat 5 times.

Pump those lungs with oxygen!

And leave a comment if you have a question