2 Ways to De-Stress in One Minute or Less

by | Updated: August 21st, 2019 | Read time: 3 minutes

There aren’t many constants in life, but your breath is one of them. It’s an easily accessible tool for creating inner calm (and exhilaration, though that could lead to more than you bargained for, as you’ll read shortly). This means from birth to death, more or less, relaxation is within your control.

Woman on Yoga Mat Practicing Breathing Exercises to De-Stress | Vitacost.com/Blog

In yoga, the exercise of breath is called pranayama. It’s an integral part of physical yoga practice. Without it (and an accompanying level of awareness) yoga is calisthenics: Ever notice that a yoga handstand looks a lot like handstands gymnasts do? That’s because a yoga handstand is … a handstand. A practitioner’s breath and intention set the inversion apart from a gymnastics handstand.

To understand how breathing affects how you feel, it helps to know how breathing and respiration work. Instead of drilling into the science, which you can find thanks to the National Institutes of Health, it helps to just keep two things in mind:

1. Your breathing rate—how quickly or slowly you breathe—affects how calm or anxious you feel.

2. Your breathing capacity—how full or shallow each breath you take is—depends on the movement of your diaphragm, a muscle below your lungs and above your stomach.

The exhilarating breath

This type of breathing exercise generally is not recommended, but it demonstrates how the frequency and depth of your breathing affect your mood and physical state, so it’s a good place to start.

Kapalbhati (skull-shining breath): Rapid breathing focused on exhalation, creating a feeling of exhilaration (read: being lightheaded from essentially hyperventilating).

Breathing quickly expels carbon dioxide at a fast rate, lowering the flow of oxygen to the brain. That oxygen reduction is what makes people feel lightheaded or dizzy and might cause them to faint.

Sorry, no instructions on how to do an exercise that can be dangerous. Plus, odds are you’re reading this to figure out how to relax not pass out.

The calming breath

If we breathe as nature intended (the way a baby does, for example) we feel relaxed. Most of the time though, because of tension, adults don’t breathe that way.

Slow, deep breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system, slows your heart rate and can stabilize blood pressure. It increases carbon dioxide levels in your blood, letting the brain get the oxygen it needs. This makes you feel calm, yet alert.

Belly breathing (a.k.a. abdominal breathing, diaphragmatic breathing): Deep breathing initiating from the abdomen, using the full capacity of the lungs.

  1. Lie down, and rest your hands on your belly. Inhale through your nose, pressing your belly up and out, into your hands. This action allows your diaphragm to contract and drop down (massaging your stomach, the organ, which can alleviate stomach cramps, by the way), creating more space in your lungs.
  2. Pause for a count or two, longer if you choose. The longer you comfortably hold your breath, the calmer you will feel. This slows the release of carbon dioxide from your system.
  3. Exhale through your nose or mouth, feeling your belly fall, along with your chest and rib cage. Your diaphragm has relaxed, pushing into your lungs, helping you breathe out.

Repeat for at least 2 minutes. Can be done standing or sitting and without the aid of your hands.

Great for:
– Opening or closing any type of yoga practice
– A pre-bedtime ritual.

Ujjayi (victorious breath): Deep breathing initiating from the rib cage, creating internal heat and a meditative sound.

  1. Lie down, and rest your hands on your outer ribcage. Inhale through your nose, expanding your ribs and chest (your diaphragm will have space to drop down, though not as much as in abdominal breathing). Contract the back of your throat as if fogging up a mirror, to create a gentle rushing sound.
  2. Exhale through your nose, keeping the breath at the back of your throat and feeling your rib cage and chest move back to neutral.

Repeat for at least 1 minute. Can be done standing or sitting and without the aid of your hands.

Great for:
– Maintaining focus throughout an active yoga practice.
– Generally cultivating concentration and strength.

Journalist and yoga teacher Mitra Malek regularly creates content for wellness-focused outlets, including Yoga Journal, where she was an editor. Learn more at mitramalek.com.