A hectic schedule, crazy kids and a demanding boss can leave you feeling frazzled by the end of the day. While it's tempting to skip your workout and spend the night channel surfing, missing out on a round of yoga could mean you also miss out on the anxiety-busting benefits of the most basic yogic philosophy: Breathing. Even if you can't make it to class, you can use yogic breathing to help calm your stress and anxiety whenever you feel the need.
One of the cornerstones of yogic practice is the conscious breath that you enjoy during meditation. Meditation is already a relaxing act, so adding conscious breathing can help slow your heart rate and concentrate on a clearer mind. Start by lying down on a yoga mat and assuming corpse pose, with your legs slightly splayed and your arms lying limp beside your body. As you breathe in, focus on the actual act of air coming in through your mouth and filling your lungs. Then, visualize that same air being pushed out of your mouth to help you calm your nerves and focus on something other than your anxiety.
The ujjayi breath is one often utilized during sun salutations and is a basic yogic breathing technique. Armed with ujjayi breath, you can push worries and anxieties out of your body as you calm yourself. Ujjayi breath is a nostril-breathing technique that can be done anywhere, since you can try it while sitting or standing. The next time you're frustrated in the grocery line, try drawing your belly button toward your spine and breathing in through the nose for three to five counts. Then, push the air forcefully back out of your nose, as though you were trying to fog a window. Repeat until you feel calmer.
Nadi shodhana is also known to yogis as alternate nostril breathing. It uses the focus of nostril breathing to calm the body. Since mouth-breathing means your body is in a state of stress, nadi shodhana helps focus and balance the breathing back to a state of calm. Sit with your back straight and gently close your right nostril with your right thumb. Breathe in and out and then switch to your left nostril and left thumb. In yogic teaching, start with the right side during daylight. If it's night, start with the left nostril.
Kumbhaka breathing is the art of breath retention. It's a personal breathing technique that takes into account your ability to hold your breath. It's ideal for when you need to take a break, slow down and realign your focus. Start by sitting down and drawing in a big breath. Hold that breath for two "om" cycles, or as long as you can, counting on the visual of your rib cage wrapping around your lungs to help support your breath. Then, slowly release the air. Take five ujjayi breaths before repeating the cycle again.
Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.