Breathing Practices to Alleviate Stress, Anxiety and Depression

Research has shown that lengthening the exhale slows the heart rate and triggers a parasympathetic nervous system response known as the relaxation response or rest and digest (Jerath et al., 2006). A study by Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (Feb 2005) showed that slow rhythmic yoga breathing can “alleviate anxiety, depression, everyday stress, post-traumatic stress, and stress-related medical illnesses”.


The TriYoga Basics Pranayama practices include natural breath (Sahaja), complete breath (Purna), Victory breath (Ujjayi), Shining breath (Kapalbhati) and Sun/Moon breath (Nadi Shodhana). While studies have shown that Alpha brain waves associated with deep relaxation increased after 5 minutes of practicing Kapalabhati , and Theta brain waves, present during deep meditation and the REM dream state, increased after 15 minutes of practice, most beginners will not be able to sustain the practice for that amount of time. Because practice can initially induce anxiety in some, we recommend learning this practice with a qualified teacher. This article will focus on the other practices which have been shown to calm the mind, reduce stress, reduce anxiety and improve depression.

Sit in a hip opener.  Sit with spine straight. Use a pillow or bolster if needed. You can also sit with spine against a wall. Hips open in Butterfly or Tortoise if you can.

Natural Breath (Sahaja) .   Exhale completely drawing navel in towards back of spine at the end of the exhale. Inhale, release the navel and abdomen will expand, filling with air. Continue, drawing the navel in at the end of each exhale. Make breath slow and steady. Bring your full focus on the pacing and quality of breath. Let go of other thoughts. Exhale and inhale is through the nostrils.

Complete Breath (Purna). Exhale completely. Inhale expand abdomen, rib case, upper chest, filling lungs to maximum capacity. Exhale completely release all the air. Breath slow and steady. Exhale and inhale is through the nostrils.

Ujjayi (Victory Breath). Using Complete Breath, on inhale, with mouth closed, whisper the sound of AH. On exhale with mouth closed whisper the sound of HA. The sound will be at the back of the throat. It acts as a valve to help you regulate the breath and the sound will help you stay focused on the breath.

First just focus on steady even flow of breath. Then can add ratios of Balancing Breath (Samata Vayu)

Balancing Breath 1                1:1 Breathing ratio, exhale same length as inhale.

Balancing Breath 2                1:2 Breathing ratio, exhale twice as long as inhale.

Balancing breath calms the mind and lowers the blood pressure. Use it any time or place to restore peace and calm to the mind.

Sun/Moon Breath (Surya Chandra also known as Nadi Shodhana).   Hands are placed in either Nasagra or Vishnu Mudra.  Nasagra Mudra  – Either hand can be used. Place the tips of the index and middle fingers between the eyebrows. Place thumb and ring finger at creases of nostrils.  Vishnu Mudra Bring tips of index and middle fingers to base of thumb. Place thumb and ring finger at creases of nostrils. Exhale completely. Close right nostril, inhale through left. Close left nostril exhale through right. Inhale through right nostril.  Close Right nostril exhale through left.  Completes 1 round

Make the breath slow, steady and silent. You should barely feel the exhale on the palm of your hand. The pattern is easy to learn. Take some time making the breath as slow and subtle as possible.

For those who have one nostril blocked this technique can be practiced without use of hands.

Research has shown that practicing Sun/Moon breath for a minimum of 5 minutes balances the left and right hemisphere of the brain. It will help you feel more calm and focused.

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