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4 Best Pranayama Exercises for Instant Calm

Health | Stress

Pranayama is the practice of breath control for the sake of enlightenment, purification, and good old-fashioned relaxation. There’s nothing like indulging in a breathing break to clear the mind and calm the body.

When you take a big belly breath, you connect with your central nervous system and ease the body out of fight or flight mode. Pranayama invites in various breathing technique that help deepen your connection to your breath and your body. If connecting to the breath is something you’d like to practice more, you should sign up to this free 30 Day Meditation Practice. It will help you maintain a regular practice, so you’ll be able to calm you breathing down in moments of high stress. 

Reach for the below simple but effective practices whenever you need to clear out the cobwebs and inspire inner stillness.

1. Nadi Shodhana Breath

Also known as “alternate nostril breathing,” this technique quickly relieves stress and anxiety, balancing the two hemispheres of the brain.

How to Practice:

  • Sit up straight.
  • Hold your right hand up to your face.
  • Close your right nostril with your right thumb.
  • Slowly inhale through the left nostril.
  • Pause for a few moments after the inhale.
  • Close the left nostril with your ring finger.
  • Release the breath slowly through the right nostril.
  • Repeat for a few rounds.

As you breathe, set an intention to balance the brain and remain engaged in the practice. Alternate nostril breathing is especially useful at the end of a long day, when you’d like to quiet the mind and enjoy deep rest.

2. Sahita Kumbhaka Breath

We’re often so concerned with our inhales and exhales that we completely forget about the space found between. Kumbhaka is the state of pause, or suspension, between the breaths, and helps us find stillness through focused mindfulness. 

How to Practice:

  • Inhale slowly.
  • Pause and hold for a few moments at the top of the breath.
  • Exhale slowly.
  • Hold for a few moments at the bottom of the breath.
  • Repeat for five minutes, then return to a normal breath.

This pattern of breathing may feel a bit unnatural at first – after all, we’re typically rushed in our busy lives – but in time you will become more mindful of your breathing patterns (and the stillness found within) and will find that your breath naturally becomes more steady, deep, and intentional with practice.

3. Ujjayi Breath

Also known as the “ocean breath,” this intense pranayama practice is great for cooling down the body and calming the nervous system. Make sure to try this technique in an area where you feel comfortable breathing loudly.

How to Practice:

  • Inhale and exhale through the nose, controlling the breath with the diaphragm. Try to keep a straight, even spine as you breathe.
  • Pull each breath firmly in and push it out through the back of the nasal passage.
  • Repeat for a few minutes, surrendering to relaxation. You’ll know you’ve got it right if your breath takes on an ocean waves sound – whooshing in and whooshing out rhythmically.

This is an excellent breathing technique to incorporate into your yoga practice, but can be practiced “a la carte” during times of anxiety, overheating, or general mental strain.

4. Sitali Breath

This is another cooling, calming breath technique that’s helpful for stress relief and mental health. Sitali takes a bit of tongue talent, but it’s easy once you get the hang of it.

How to Practice:

  • Roll your tongue into a tube shape, or simply flatten the center and lift the edges as much as possible.
  • Take a deep, full inhale with an open mouth.
  • At the top of the breath, touch the roof of your mouth with the tip of your tongue and close your mouth.
  • Hold for a few moments.
  • Release through the nose.

If you find it challenging to master this method, imagine “drinking in” the fresh air, using your tongue as a straw. You can repeat this practice for a few rounds, or until you feel cooled down (mentally and physically!).

Breath is the essence of life, and pranayama helps us to connect with this amazing force, channeling it through the tired and anxious parts of ourselves and restoring our peace of mind.

Image credit: Debby Siegel

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