There are over 40 million people in the United States alone that struggle with anxiety. I’ve had it in the past, and it’s no fun. Pacing back and forth, rubbing my legs incessantly, trying my best to not have a full-blown panic attack at work or even at home has happened to me more often than I’d like to admit.
I haven’t fully conquered anxiety. I still get anxious during high-intensity situations, but I’d definitely consider myself leagues above where I was a year ago. There are a number of things I’ve changed to help me overcome anxiety, and breathing is one of the areas I’d say has had one of the greatest impacts on my life.
If you struggle with anxiety, and you’re looking for something to take the edge off, try one or more of the following breathing exercises and see how you feel.
Deer-Seal (Mrigi Mudra)
One of the most effective breathing techniques that’s worked for me has been the Mrigi Mudra, commonly referred to as deer-seal breathing. The process is simple! Plug one nostril with your pinky and take a breath in through your nose. Then, used your thumb or index finger to plug your other nostril, releasing your pinky and breathing out through the open nostril.
You can do this a few times on each side before reversing the flow. This practice is very calming and allows for concentration of the breath, a nice distraction from any of the other thoughts that the anxious mind can sometimes muster.
One great thing about deer-seal breathing is you can do it any time, anywhere! It doesn’t take long to notice the effects.
Skull Shining Breath
The skull shining breathing method is said to cleanse air passages in the body and is very helpful not only in stress reduction, but it has also been known to help with digestion and improve the amount of oxygen in your system.
To begin, have a seat, head above heart, in a criss-cross-applesauce position. Next, take a deep inhale in for about 4-6 seconds. Let the air fill your abdomen and, mouth closed, start to forcefully exhale through your nose in short, quick breaths. Your abdomen should retract inward on each exhale. You should be able to do about 20-40 exhales for every inhale you take.
This practice has tons of benefits and is another one of my favorites, particularly when I’m angry. The aggressive and constant release of breath really helps me to blow off steam, and usually leaves me feeling much better.
Lion breath is a super easy one that can leave you feeling either powerful or a little silly (I guess it depends on your imagination). I try not to care what other people think of me, so I leave lion’s breath feeling exuberant and strong.
You might want to try this one by yourself or with a close friend if you’ve never tried it before. I wouldn’t recommend doing this one in a quiet classroom or a library. To practice the lion breath technique, simply take a deep breath in and a heavy exhale through your mouth with your tongue extended. Don’t be afraid to really let your breath out and make some exhalation noises.
The lion breath practice can be great for anxiety, anger, and stress. These strong exhales can be thought of as releasing negative energy from the body.
Wim Hof Breathing
Wim Hof breathing doesn’t have much to do with yoga, but it is a wonderful breathing technique and can help in all areas of life. If you’ve never heard of Wim Hof or the Wim Hof Method you should check out this Joe Rogan Interview with him. It will change your life and the way you think about your body.
If you don’t believe any of the Wim Hof ideas, you should read What Doesn’t Kill Us by Scott Carney. Scott, a skeptical investigative journalist, was set out to debunk the Wim Hof Method but is now an avid supporter.
The first part of Wim Hof’s method is to work on breathing. You’ll want to get comfortable, either laying down or sitting upright. Take slow, full, and deep breaths in and immediately release these breaths. There’s no need to fully exhale, and Wim Hof actually recommends against it. You’ll want each breath in to be full and complete, but every exhale should just simply be “letting go.”
After 30-or-so breaths, your body should start feeling tingly and you’ll be very light-headed. This is good. This is what you want. Once you feel this energy, on an exhale, let go and hold it. Don’t take another breath in. Hold your breath for as long as you can, but try to relax in the process.
When you just can’t take it any longer, take a breath in and hold it for 15 seconds and then release. Repeat this entire process 3 times. You should notice that by the 3rd round you can hold your breath much longer than before. If you practice this regularly, I can assure you, you’ll be holding your breath longer than you’ve ever done before.
If you’re curious to see what this entire process looks like, check out this tutorial video that Wim Hof made!
One thing that all of these breathing techniques share is that they allow you to get rid of angst and unease and slow down your mind, if only a little. Try these out if you’re feeling up to it and let us know how they work for you. You can leave a comment below on your experience or if you have any questions.
Breathing goes hand-in-hand with yoga, so I really hope you’ll give one or more of these breathing exercises a chance. You may be shocked to find how helpful they can truly be.