Breathe with Purpose: 4 Breathing Techniques for Wellness
By Wendy Toth
We often take our breath for granted. It’s always there, after all. It doesn’t seem like something we should have to concentrate on. But breath is powerful. Learning to harness your own breathing can help you control your states of body and mind. It’s a secret weapon.
That’s why Shari Vilchez-Blatt, founder and director of Karma Kids Yoga, teaches adults and children alike that breathing can benefit almost everything we do, from concentrating on a test to falling asleep at night. For kids, it becomes a positive practice for life, and for adults, it reminds us how much getting back to breathing basics can change our lives.
Below are some of Vilchez-Blatt’s top techniques for breathing your way to a better day:
1. For Reduced Anxiety
Breathe in through your nose for a count of five, and out through your mouth for a count of five. (If five is too hard, start with a smaller number, like four.)
Do a set of three breaths this way, and then increase your count by one for the next set.
“The increased count slows breathing down, which calms the nerves,” says Vilchez-Blatt. Try to work your way up to breathing in for a count of seven, and out for a count of seven.
2. For Increased Focus
Sit comfortably and take a few easy breaths. Then make “hang-10” fingers with your hand. Fully close off your right nostril with your thumb and breathe in through the left nostril. Pause, then close off the left nostril with your pinky and breathe out through the right nostril. Then breathe in through your right nostril, pause, close it off with your thumb, and breathe out through your left nostril.
Continue to alternate for three rounds of 10, or however many you are comfortable with. “This is a great exercise for focus,” says Vilchez-Blatt. “I show it to tweens and teens to help them chill out before a test.”
3. For Energy
Sitting up in a comfortable seat, bring your hands to your shoulders and lift your elbows so they are level with your shoulders.
Twist to the right as you breathe in and to the left as you breathe out.
After a round of 10 to 20, take a few easy breaths and relax your arms. Then do another set, switching the twist. Breathe in when you twist to the left and breathe out when you twist to the right. “You should move to a quick beat for this one,” says Vilchez-Blatt. “The movement creates warmth throughout the body, and the effect is like a cup of coffee.”
4. For Relaxation
Lie on your back and place a small object like a beanbag on your belly. Fill your belly with air, the way you fill a glass of water, from the bottom up. Watch the object rise. Then send the object back to meet your spine.
“This exercise mimics the belly breathing we all do in deep sleep,” says Vilchez-Blatt. When we are awake, most of us take shallow breaths into our chests. “It helps us find the connection of our bodies to our minds,” she says. It then prepares both for a restful sleep.