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Yoga Breathing for Anxiety: A Natural Path to Calm

Updated: 4 days ago

Anxiety is a common yet debilitating condition that affects millions of people worldwide.


It manifests as persistent worry, fear, and unease, often interfering with daily life.


Anxiety, worry, and fear are signs of Vata dosha out of balance.


While there are many ways to manage anxiety, one powerful and natural method is through yoga breathing techniques, also known as pranayama.



a woman practicing nadi shodhana as a yoga breathing for anxiety technique

This blog post covers:



Understanding Anxiety and Its Impact


Anxiety is a natural response to stress, characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure.


While occasional anxiety is a normal part of life, chronic anxiety can lead to significant distress and impair one's ability to function.


Symptoms of anxiety include:


  • Restlessness and irritability

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Muscle tension

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Shortness of breath


Traditional treatments for anxiety include therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes.


However, many people seek alternative or complementary methods to manage their symptoms.


Ayurvedic practices that reduce Vata dosha will help to reduce anxiety.


Yoga breathing techniques are one example of Vata pacification methods offering a natural and effective way to reduce anxiety and promote overall well-being.



The Science Behind Yoga Breathing


a woman sitting in a field performing yoga breathing for anxiety techniques

Yoga breathing, or pranayama, is an integral part of yoga practice that involves controlling the breath to improve mental, emotional, and physical health.


The word "pranayama" is derived from the Sanskrit words "prana" (life force or breath) and "ayama" (extension or control).


By utilizing yoga breathing for anxiety, individuals can influence their nervous system and promote relaxation.


Research available at the NIH (National Institute of Health) has shown that yoga breathing can significantly reduce anxiety, fatigue, stress, and emotional response.


Here’s how it works:


1. Yoga Breathing for Anxiety Activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System


Deep, slow breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which counteracts the fight-or-flight response and promotes a state of calm according to a study available on Science Direct.


2. Yoga Breathing for Anxiety Reduces Cortisol Levels


Cortisol is a hormone associated with stress.


In another study on Science Direct, regular practice of yoga breathing has been shown to lower cortisol levels, reducing overall stress and anxiety.


3. Yoga Breathing for Anxiety Improves Heart Rate Variability (HRV)


HRV is the variation in time between each heartbeat.


Higher HRV is linked to better stress resilience and reduced anxiety.


According to a study in the Journal of Research in Medical and Dental Science, Yoga breathing practices can enhance HRV.


4. Yoga Breathing for Anxiety Increases Oxygen Saturation


Oxygen saturation shows blood oxygen content and oxygen delivery (Lippincott).


Deep breathing increases oxygen saturation (Lippincott) in the brain and body, improving cognitive function and emotional regulation.



Effective Yoga Breathing for Anxiety Techniques


Several yoga breathing techniques can help manage anxiety. Here are some of the most effective practices:


1. Diaphragmatic Breathing (Belly Breathing)


A woman sitting at the beach practicing diaphragmatic yoga breathing for anxiety

Diaphragmatic breathing involves breathing deeply into the diaphragm rather than shallowly into the chest.


This yoga breathing for anxiety technique is simple and can be practiced anywhere, making it a great place to start your breathing practices.


How to Practice


1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.

2. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.

3. Inhale deeply through your nose, allowing your abdomen to rise while keeping your chest relatively still.

4. Exhale slowly through your nose, letting your abdomen fall.

5. Repeat for 3-10 minutes.


Contraindications:


This breathing practice is quite safe and can be performed by anyone.


Use caution with recent surgery to the abdomen.



2. Dirgha Pranayama (3-Part Breath)


A woman resting her hands on her heart and abdomen while doing dirgha pranayama as a yoga breathing for anxiety technique

This yoga breathing for anxiety practice is also simple, but it can take some time to find a good flow.


How to Practice


1. Sit in a comfortable position with the spine elongated.

2. Breathe into the belly, allowing it to expand like a balloon.

3. Continue inhaling up into the rib cage, and finally up into the chest, bringing the breath up under the collarbones.

4. Exhale out of the chest, then the ribs, and finally the belly, gently drawing the belly button toward the spine.

5. The breath should be in and out through the nostrils.

6. Envision filling the torso with breath, including the back and sides of the body.

7. The breath should be even, smooth, and continuous without straining.

8. Practice this breath for 3-5 minutes, or use several breaths to prepare the body for other pranayama practices.


Contraindications:


None, except recent surgery to the torso.



3. Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)


a woman practicing nadi shodhana, a yoga breathing for anxiety technique

Nadi Shodhana is a balancing breath technique that calms the mind and promotes relaxation and is a yoga breathing for anxiety practice.


How to Practice

1. Sit in a comfortable position with the spine elongated.

2. Bring the right hand into Vishnu mudra, curling the index and middle finger into the palm.

3. Alternately, the thumb will close off the right nostril, and the ring finger will close off the left nostril.

4. Gently cover the right nostril with the thumb. Exhale, then inhale through the left nostril.

5. Switch sides so the ring finger is covering the left nostril. Exhale, then inhale.

6. Continue with this pattern of exhaling, inhaling, and switching sides.

7. Finish by exhaling through the left nostril.

8. Practice this breath for 3-20 minutes.


Contraindications:


Respiratory infection, deviated septum 



4. Ujjayi Breath (Victorious Breath)


a woman doing ujjayi breath, a yoga breathing for anxiety technique

Ujjayi breath is known for its soothing and meditative qualities making it an excellent yoga breathing for anxiety technique.


It involves slightly constricting the throat to create a soft, ocean-like sound during breathing.


How to Practice

1. Sit comfortably with your spine straight.

2. Inhale deeply through your nose.

3. Exhale slowly through your nose while constricting the back of your throat (the glotis), creating a gentle ocean sound.

4. Continue this pattern for 5-10 minutes.


Ujjayi can be combined with either Diaphragmatic Breathing or Dirgha Pranayama.


Contraindications:


Recent surgery to the neck or throat.


Avoid when you have a sore throat.



5. Bhramari ( Bumble Bee Breath)


Bhramari is a calming breath technique that involves making a humming sound, which can help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation.


How to Practice

1. Sit comfortably with your spine straight.

2. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.

3. Place your hands on either side of your face with the first two fingers covering the eyes, the ring fingers above the lips, and the pinky fingers below the lips.

4. Use the thumbs to press in the tragus (the triangle at the front of the aperture of the ear) to close off the sense of hearing.

5. Inhale deeply through your nose.

6. As you exhale, touch the tip of the tongue to the roof of the mouth and make a low-pitched humming sound, like a bee.

7. Do this breath 7 times.


Precautions:


Irritation of throat or sinuses; irritation or infection of lungs


Contraindications:


Intense grief, fear, recent trauma, bi-polar conditions, vulnerable emotional state 



6. Shitali Breath (Cooling Breath)



woman rolling her tongue to prepare for yoga breathing for anxiety

Sitali breath is a cooling and soothing technique that can help reduce anxiety and stress.


This yoga breathing for anxiety practice is especially beneficial in the summer or with a Pitta constitution or imbalance.


How to Practice

1. Sit comfortably with your spine straight.

2. Roll your tongue into a tube and stick it out slightly. If you can't roll your tongue, see the Shitkarin Breath below.

3. Inhale deeply through your mouth, feeling the cool air passing over your tongue.

4. Close your mouth and touch the tip of the tongue to the roof of the mouth.

5. Exhale slowly through your nose.

5. Start with 7 breaths per day and work up to 5-10 minutes.


Contraindications: Extreme cold, extremely high Vāta and Kapha.



7. Shitkarin Breath (Alternate Cooling Breath)


a woman clenching her teeth for shitkarin pranayama, a yoga breathing for anxiety technique

This breath is a great alternative if you are unable to roll your tongue for the Shitali Breath listed above.


It's nice and cooling during hot weather to keep Pitta dosha in check or when you are dealing with a Pitta dosha imbalance.


Shitkarin is an excellent yoga breathing for anxiety technique.


How to Practice:

1. Sit in a comfortable position with the spine elongated.

2. Open the lips and breathe in through the teeth

3. Touch the tip of the tongue to the roof of the mouth and exhale through the nostrils.

4. Repeat 7 times, and extend up to 5-10 minutes.


Contraindications: Extreme cold, extremely high Vāta and Kapha.



Variations of Yoga Breathing for Anxiety



woman doing yoga breathing for anxiety

Counting the Breath


Some people find it soothing to count their breath.


A good rule of thumb is to make the exhalation longer than the inhalation to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system.


You may want to inhale to a count of four and exhale for a count of eight.


If counting the breath creates aggravation or irritation, let go of this technique and try to make the exhalation longer than the inhalation.


Breath Retention


Retention of breath can be explored once you are comfortable with a particular yoga breath.


A good place to begin with breath retention is after the inhalation because retaining the breath after the exhalation can be more difficult.


If you have been doing one of the above practices for a while, you can simply begin to notice the natural pause between each inhalation and exhalation.


Over time, you can extend the pause to a count of two, then increase the retention to a count of four after a few weeks.



Incorporating Yoga Breathing for Anxiety into Daily Life


To reap the full benefits of yoga breathing for anxiety, it’s essential to incorporate these practices into your daily routine.


Here are some tips to get started:


1. Set Aside Time Daily


an hourglass denoting the importance of making time daily for yoga breathing for anxiety

Dedicate 10-15 minutes each day to practice yoga breathing.


Consistency is key to experiencing lasting benefits.


These practices can also be sprinkled throughout your day when you are experiencing anxiety.



2. Create a Calm Environment


Find a quiet and comfortable space where you can practice without distractions.


This will help you focus and deepen your practice.


But, you can also do these practices wherever you can find a moment during your day.


I've been known to do some of these practices on the subway or as a passenger in the car to help ease my mind when traveling.



3. Combine with Other Practices


a woman doing yoga asana to show the opportunity to combine yoga breathing for anxiety with other practices

Yoga breathing can be combined with other relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga asanas (postures), or progressive Yoga Nidra (Yogic Sleep) for enhanced benefits.



4. Use Guided Resources


There are many apps, videos, and books available that offer guided yoga breathing exercises.


These can be helpful, especially for beginners.


Insight Timer is a nice app that offers free guided practices.



5. Listen to Your Body


Pay attention to how your body and mind respond to different breathing techniques.


Adjust your practice as needed to suit your comfort level and needs.



6. Check Out My Online Yoga Breathing for Anxiety Classes


I love teaching Yoga breathing classes because I have experienced the profound effects of these practices on my own body and mind.


Check out upcoming classes on my website.



Conclusion



woman doing yoga breathing for anxiety

Yoga breathing, or pranayama, offers a natural and effective way to manage anxiety.


By incorporating techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing, Nadi Shodhana, Ujjayi breath, Bhramari, and Sitali breath into your daily routine, you can experience profound benefits for your mental and emotional well-being.


These practices help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, reduce cortisol levels, improve heart rate variability, and increase oxygen saturation in the brain and the body.


With regular practice, you can cultivate a sense of calm, balance, and resilience in the face of anxiety.


If you're new to yoga breathing, start slowly and be patient with yourself.


Over time, you’ll develop a deeper connection with your breath and a greater ability to manage anxiety naturally.


Embrace the journey and enjoy the transformative power of pranayama.


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**Note to Readers: If you’re experiencing severe anxiety, it’s important to seek professional help. Yoga breathing can complement traditional treatments, but it should not replace medical advice or therapy. Always consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new wellness practice.

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