In general, there are two types of breathing: 1. costal (or chest) breathing and 2. diaphragmatic (or abdominal) breathing. Chest breathing is characterized by outward and upward movement of the chest wall, which visibly causes the chest to rise and fall with the breath. It tends to be unsteady and shallow, requires more work for the body, and has a cyclical relationship with stress (stress leads to chest breathing, which tells the body something is wrong, which leads to a stress response…).
Diaphragmatic breathing, on the other hand, is efficient, rhythmic, deep, and steady. Anyone who’s watched a baby sleep has witnessed the slow and gentle rise and fall of the belly in response to each diaphragmatic breath. As adults, many of us have lost contact with this type of breathing and can benefit greatly from this simple diaphragmatic breathing exercise.
Begin in a comfortable, upright position. Let out a deep sigh and deliberately relax and release your upper body muscles (especially your neck and shoulders). Place one hand on your chest and your other hand above your belly button at waist level. Inhale through your nose (continuing to relax your shoulders) until you feel a natural fullness of air in your belly, hold the breath for a second (or longer, depending on your preference), then exhale through your mouth (with a relaxed jaw) by drawing in your belly button towards your spine. Hold again at the bottom of that breath, even if just for a moment. Continue to repeat for several cycles of breath, feeling your bottom hand rise and fall with your breath, while your upper hand remains still on your chest.
The ring serves as a visual aid that can be integrated with the deep diaphragmatic breathing skills described above (you may relax your hands to your side). The added imagery is helpful for many people as it provides a place to focus their attention and reduces the likelihood and impact of intrusive thoughts. It is often reported to have a soothing hypnotic effect that is particularly beneficial for people who struggle with falling asleep. This exercise can be practiced in any position; play around and see what works best for you!
Begin the practice by closing your eyes and visualizing a circular ring in your mind’s eye. As you exhale, envision the ring lighting up as it moves from the top of the ring slowly towards the bottom of the ring. Then, as you inhale, continue to picture the ring lighting up as it moves from the bottom of the ring to the top. Continue to sync your breath with the image of the ring lighting up as you move your way through numerous cycles of breath.
Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing)
Nadi shodhana is a powerful breathing practice with a long history in Ayurvedic medicine and yoga. To begin, find a comfortable, upright position and bring your right hand towards your face. Place your thumb on your right nostril and your ring finger to your left nostril. Your pointer and middle finger can be either outstretched and rested between your eyebrows or folded inward towards the palm of your hand in front of your mouth. Let your pinky finger rest whenever is most comfortable for you.
Use your right thumb to close your right nostril. Gently exhale through your left nostril. Keep your right nostril closed, inhale through your left nostril. Next, gently close your left nostril with your ring finger and exhale through your right nostril. Keep your left nostril closed, inhale through your right nostril. Continue to repeat this pattern by gently closing the right nostril to exhale then inhale through your left nostril followed by closing your left nostril to exhale and inhale through the right nostril and so on.