[Video] Four calming breathing exercises to boost your day

Nadina Moutou's profile picture
Health Adviser at Bupa UK
01 September 2021
Next review due September 2024

Finding time for yourself can sometimes feel difficult, especially when you feel anxious or stressed. Yet, research shows that taking time out to unwind and calm your thoughts can have a positive effect on your health and wellbeing.

In this short video, I share four calming breathing exercises that take just a few minutes to do. They are based on the ancient pranayama yoga practice of controlling your breath and can help to reduce stress and anxiety.

Benefits of yoga breathing

Practising yoga breathing regularly is great for balancing your body and mind. Researchers have found that the pranayama technique of controlling the breath can:

  • promote relaxation
  • reduce stress and anxiety
  • improve your quality of sleep
  • reduce depression
  • lower and/or stabilise high blood pressure (hypertension)

There’s also increasing interest in the use of yoga breathing to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But there aren’t many studies looking at how effective this is.

Breathing exercises from the video

Before you start the video, get into a comfortable seated position, and ready to focus on your breathing. Here’s a summary of the four breathing exercises that I will guide you through.

1. Connect with your breathing

The first yoga breathing exercise encourages slow and controlled breathing by getting you to pay attention to your breath, as it flows in and out of your body. With your eyes closed, you’ll start by taking a few deep breaths in and out, and to notice your natural breathing. You will also connect with the way you’re feeling while breathing in and out.

Your breathing will deepen with this exercise. You’ll repeat this a few more times before returning to your normal breathing pattern.

2. Ocean breathing (Ujjayi)

This next breathing exercise promotes relaxation. It’s called ocean breathing (or ocean’s breath) because it involves long, deep and controlled breath sounds – like ocean waves.

During the exercise you will keep your mouth closed as you exhale, while tightening the back of your throat to produce the sound of the ocean. Then you’ll see if you can maintain the sound, even with your lips closed.

3. Alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana)

Practising alternate breathing can help you breathe more easily through your nose and mouth, and let go of any stress and tension.

Sitting in a comfortable position, you will close your right nostril with your thumb and breathe in slowly through the left nostril. Then, you’ll close your left nostril and release your right nostril. You will then exhale (breathe out) slowly through your right nostril.

This exercise will be repeated a few times on your left and right nostril.

4. Cooling breath (Shiitali Kumbhaka)

This last breathing exercise is very calming and great for cooling down your entire body. To do it, you will need to be able to curl the sides of your tongue, which not everyone can do.

To start, you will fold your tongue, curling the sides to form a tube. Then you’ll close your mouth and stick the end of your tongue out between your pursed lips. Next, you inhale (breathe in) slowly through the tube-shape of your tongue as if sipping air through a straw, and let your breath expand your chest and belly. Then you’ll close your mouth and exhale slowly through your nose.

The last exercise will be repeated a few times.

Take care of your mind and body

Why not build these yoga breathing exercises into your morning routine to prepare you for the day ahead? Or try them before you go to sleep at night to get you into a more relaxed state of mind.

There are lots of other types of yoga too, such as hatha yoga, vinyasa flow yoga, and even chair yoga.

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Nadina Moutou's profile picture
Nadina Moutou
Health Adviser at Bupa UK

    • Michael de Vibe, et al. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) for improving health, quality of life and social functioning in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Campbell Collaboration. November 2017. doi:10.4073/csr.2017.11
    • Vasant Venkatraman Shastri, et al. Investigation of yoga pranayama and vedic mathematics on mindfulness, aggression and emotion regulation. International Journal of Yoga. 2017. doi:10.4103/0973-6131.213470
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    • Holgar Cramer et al. Yoga for posttraumatic stress disorder – a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Psychiatry. 2018; 18:72.
    • Zaccaro A, Piarulli A, Laurino M, et al. How breath-control can change your life: A systematic review on psych-physiological correlates of slow breathing. Front Hum Neurosci. 2018; 12:353: doi:10.3389.fnhum.2018.00353
    • Jahan I, Begum M, Akhter S, et al. Effects of alternate nostril breathing exercise on respiratory functions in healthy young adults leading stressful lifestyle. J Popul Ther Clin Pharmacol. 2020; 27(1):e104-14. doi:10.15586/jptcp.v27i1.668
    • Alternate nostril breathing technique (nadi shodhan pranayama). The Art of Living., updated 11 September 2020

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