In today’s hyper-connected, overstimulated world, many of us feel stressed, anxious, depressed, or simply unwell. We soothe ourselves with processed junk food, alcohol, and other “quick fixes,” treating the things that will heal us long-term (like exercise and healthy eating) as a chore—or worse—punishment. But what if our journey back to wellness could be as easy as taking a couple deep breaths?
Author and owner of Manhattan’s Strala Yoga, Tara Stiles has yoga cures for more than fifty ailments—from anxiety to migraines, hangovers to cellulite—and they all begin with one thing: focus on the breath. “In order to build the tools we need to heal ourselves—intuition, feeling, and self-awareness,” Tara explains, “we need to quiet our minds.” By focusing on our breath, we switch into observer mode, opening up space for our minds to calm, our heartbeats to slow, and making room to breathe. We begin to listen to what our bodies are telling us, rather than ignoring them. You can start that process today with these three simple breathing exercises proven to energize, soothe anxiety, boost mood, and even clear congestion.
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Darth Vader Breath
Technically known as Ujjayi breathing, it’s been dubbed “Darth Vader breath” because it makes you sound like the Star Wars villain. This technique not only focuses the mind during meditation and yoga, but it stimulates the vagus nerve, which sends signals to your body that make you happy. (Vagus nerve stimulation therapy has even been approved by the FDA as treatment for depression, epilepsy, and inflammation.)
Try it now
Sit up tall, where you can sit comfortably. Close your eyes and rest your attention on your breath. Lengthen and deepen your inhales and exhales, setting a nice, full, deep, and even pace of breathing. Constrict the back of your throat slightly so when you inhale and exhale you are making a soft hissing sound. Continue breathing this way for a few minutes. How do you feel?
Alternate Nostril Breathing
This popular breathing technique is great for mood, anxiety, and even congestion. As with most anything, making alternate nostril breathing a daily practice will only increase its benefits, and will likely leave you a consistently calmer, happier person. The next time you’re anxious before a meeting or an event, try this breathing exercise to calm and center yourself. It’s also great to practice before you sit down to meditate as it centers the mind. And, if you’ve got a winter cold coming on, try it to ease those stuffy-head symptoms.
Try it now
Sit up tall and comfortably. With your right hand, curl down your index and middle fingers into your palm. You’ll use your ring finger and your thumb, which is a perfect space for your nose to rest between. This hand position will help you alternate between nostrils as you inhale and exhale.
Press your ring finger over your left nostril and inhale for four counts through your right nostril. Close off your right nostril with your thumb so both sides of your nostrils are closed. Hold all the air in for four counts. Release your ring finger and let all the air out your left nostril for four counts. Reverse this pattern starting with inhaling through the left nostril, holding both closed, and exhaling out the right side. Repeat this breathing pattern for three to five minutes.
This breathing exercise has a number of diverse benefits, including better blood flow, boosted energy, and natural decongestion. It also provides a quick cleanse for both the circulatory and nervous systems, and can warm you up when you’re chilly.
Try it now
Sit up tall, and sit comfortably. Take a long and deep inhale. Exhale sharply through the nose, let the inhale follow naturally and repeat at a medium pace for a few seconds. If you feel comfortable, start to pick up the pace until you are exhaling pretty rapidly. Try to continue for thirty seconds to a minute. When you are ready to finish, gradually slow down your exhales until you can resume normal, deep breathing.
Kick off your journey back to health in 2018 with more yoga breathing exercises and more than 50 simple sequences from Tara Stiles’ book, Yoga Cures.
For more information on how to reclaim your mind, body and spirit in 2018, check out “Sit Happens: How to Position Yourself While Meditating” inspired by Unplug by Suze Yalof Schwartz and “New Year, New Chakras: 7 Practices to Awaken, Heal, and Empower” adapted from The Sevenfold Journey by Anodea Judith and Selene Vega.
“Try it now” exercises excerpted from Yoga Cures: Simple Routines to Conquer More Than 50 Common Ailments and Live Pain-Free by Tara Stiles. Copyright 2012 by Tara Stiles. Published in the United States by Harmony Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
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