Steady the Mind and Calm the Nerves with Yogic Breathing

Steady the Mind and Calm the Nerves with Yogic Breathing
One of the ways to support a healthy mind is to give it a break, and one of the best ways to give the mind a break is to practice breathwork. Breathwork brings your attention toward the breath as a focal point, taking your focus away from stressful thoughts.

In yogic terms, breathwork is called pranayama. While breathwork has many benefits that come from increasing the use of lung capacity and increasing the amount of oxygen that enters the body, the word pranayama refers to much more. The Sanskrit word pranayama is made up of two words: prana, which means “life-force energy” and yama which some translate to mean “control” in reference to the different ways of controlling the breath.

According to Swami Satyananda Saraswati in the book Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha, the second half of the word pranayama is the word “ayama,” which means expansion, in reference to how the practice of pranayama expands one’s awareness beyond normal limitations.

In contemporary life, we might first be drawn to pranayama for the physical and mental benefits. Certain types of pranayama can help reduce stress, anxiety, and the physical side-effects of stress on the body. Slow, steady, and rhythmic breathing can induce more relaxed states of body and mind. Saraswati writes:

“Through the practice of pranayama, the energy trapped in neurotic, unconscious mental patterns may be released for use in more creative and joyful activity.”

Slow, steady breathing is the aim of the yogic breath. The yogic breath is a three-part breath to work up to, if you are new to pranayama. The breath can be broken into three parts: abdominal breathing, thoracic breathing, and clavicular breathing.

Before starting a breathing practice be sure you have a comfortable space where you can feel relaxed. Check in with your doctor to let them know you are starting a new practice. And review all the steps before starting the practice.

Abdominal Breath

Take your time getting comfortable with abdominal breathing before moving onto the full yogic breath. To learn this practice, do so on your back or while seated.

  • Get comfortable and place one hand on the belly.
  • Inhale slowly and steadily through the nose, and expand the belly in a comfortable way into the hand.
  • Relax the jaw, exhale through the mouth, and gently pull the belly button back toward the spine to help release all the air.
  • On each inhale, expand the belly.
  • On each exhale, let the belly pull back slowly toward the spine.
  • Repeat this three to five times as one round.
  • Return to normal breathing.
  • Pause for a few moments to notice how you feel.

Deep belly breathing, or abdominal breathing, can be practiced anytime to help reduce stress and anxiety. This type of breath signals to the body that it is safe to relax.

Thoracic Breath

Thoracic breath is not meant to be done on its own. Breathing only into the chest space, a more shallow breath, does not induce relaxation. It is part of the yogic breath for how it, combined with deep belly breathing, uses more lung capacity. For deep belly breathing combined with thoracic breath:

  • Get comfortable in a seated position and take a few deep belly breaths as above.
  • Keep one hand on the belly, place the other hand on the chest, near heart level.
  • Inhale through the nose, expand the belly into one hand and once the belly feels expanded (without overexerting), inhale more air and expand the chest into the other hand.
  • Exhale and let the chest then the belly relax.
  • Repeat this three to five times to get accustomed to the rhythm of the deep belly breath combined with thoracic breathing.
  • Return to normal breathing.
  • Pause for a few moments to notice how you feel.

Yogic Breath

For the full yogic breath, include clavicular breathing. Clavicular breathing is not intended to be done on its own. Breathing only into the clavicular area is a short, shallow breath which mimics an anxious breath. When combined with deep belly breathing and thoracic breathing it helps add a bit more breath into the full combination. To perform a complete yogic breath:

  • Sit comfortably in an upright position.
  • Place one hand on the belly and one hand on the chest.
  • Inhale slowly through the nose, expanding the belly into the hand.
  • When that feels full, inhale more through the nose and expand the chest.
  • When the chest feels full, sip in a bit more air and lift the clavicle.
  • Exhale slowly letting the clavicle relax, then the chest, then the belly.
  • Repeat three to five times.
  • Return to normal breathing.
  • Pause for a few moments to notice how you feel.

With all pranayama it is very important that you do not strain. Take your time getting comfortable with one technique before moving onto the next step. This should not feel uncomfortable. If you feel dizzy or have any side effects, stop the practice and speak with your doctor.

Set aside time each day for practicing the full yogic breath. Saraswati notes that once you have become comfortable with the yogic breath, you no longer need to practice the clavicular breathing as part of the pranayama. You can simply use deep belly breathing and thoracic breathing.

The best time of day to practice is said to be early in the morning, on an empty stomach, before meditation and before heading into the day. The benefits will increase over time. Abdominal breathing and the full yogic breath also can be done any time of day to help steady the mind, calm the nerves, and expand the amount of oxygen that is exchanged in the body to support the functions of the body and mind.

*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.

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