Ahh, the holidays. Between the shopping frenzy, travel madness, and family feuds, it feels like we forget to breathe. I bet you’re holding your breath right now just thinking about it.
Don’t worry, a lot of people hold their breath when under stress, and it can affect heart rate, the levels of oxygen reaching the brain, mood, and muscle tension.
The last thing you need this season is a tense body and an overstimulated brain. Here are 4 different ways to breathe out the crazy.
1. Count Your Breaths
A lot of the time in yoga class, you’ll hear the instructor tell you to inhale and exhale for 4 counts (or any number that’s reasonable). This isn’t for any old reason. Counting out the length of your breaths is not only the beginning of learning to control them, it ensures a well-oxygenated blood stream and brain.
You want your exhales to be as long as your inhales so you’re expelling as much air as you’ve taken in. This lowers the levels of carbon dioxide so the lungs so can take in more oxygen. More air equals more clarity and less stress.
How to: Inhale for 4, slow counts (like the beat to a slow jam). Time it so you completely fill the lungs at the end of the fourth count. Then immediately exhale for 4 counts, timing it the same until all the air is out. Repeat.
2. Breath Retention
You can add to the above technique by holding your breath in between inhales and exhales. I know, this sounds counterintuitive, but it’s a quick way to lower the heart rate, stabilize shallow breathing, and just slow down.
How to: Inhale for 4 counts. Hold your breath for 4 counts. Exhale for 4 counts. Then you can slowly increase the intervals to 6, 10, or even 20 counts (that’s for the pros).
3. Ocean Breath
Also known as Ujjayi Breath, the Ocean Breath is called such because it requires you to close the back of your throat as you breathe so you make an audible breath that sounds like the ocean. This vibrates the vagus nerve at the back of your throat and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system – the one that calms down your fight or flight response.
How to: Inhale and exhale slowly while slightly closing the back of your throat (think: fogging up a cold mirror). Focus on constricting the throat during the exhale– this is when you’ll really vibrate the vagus nerve and send your mind straight to the beach.
4. Alternate Nostril Breathing
I find that with alternate nostril breathing, you not only slow down your breathing significantly, but you are able to tell whether one nostril is more blocked than the other. Maybe I’m crazy, but I can’t always immediately tell when one of my nostrils is slightly more congested from mild allergies because the clear nostril is doing the rest of the work. But as soon as I practice this technique I notice that I’m not getting as much oxygen as I could be if both sides of my nose were completely clear.
To prepare, make a fist with your right hand so that only the thumb and pinky are sticking out (making the hang loose sign).
Ready? Plug your right nostril with the thumb, inhale through your left nostril. Then plug the left nostril with the pinky and release the thumb from the right and exhale. Don’t let go! Take an inhale here, then plug the right nostril and exhale left. Inhale left, exhale right, and so on.
Try these techniques out, find your favorite, and master it (or all of them!) to feel more relaxed this holiday season.