By Stephanie Mansour, CNN
A worldwide pandemic is more than enough to induce excess stress. Many people have had to deal with a changing work life and family life, leading to uncertainty. Having a moment of mindfulness with breathwork at the beginning of the day can help add consistency and structure to your routine.
A regular routine can help those who are feeling stressed from the pandemic decrease their anxiety levels, according to research. When it comes to a morning routine, all you need to get started is your body and breath. Mindfulness meditation can even improve concentration and decision-making, studies have shown.
As a yoga instructor, I have prepared these breathing exercises to relax your body and mind while giving you energy for your day.
Yoga and meditation involve breathing in and out through the nose. This fully engages the diaphragm — the main breathing muscle — and allows for a deeper and calmer breath. Cardio and strength training require you to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth to release carbon dioxide efficiently.
These five simple breathing exercises address different breath patterns. Each exercise will invigorate your mind and body to start the day. Perform one of these exercises for two to three minutes each morning.
1. Basic deep breathing
You have probably practiced this type of breathing if you have taken yoga classes, but I often find that many of my clients are unsure how to begin.
Find somewhere comfortable and quiet to sit where you won’t be distracted.
Breathe deeply through your nose for five seconds, counting in your head. Then slowly breathe out through your nose for five seconds. Focus only on the movement of your breath.
As you breathe in, the diaphragm contracts, drawing air into your lungs. The diaphragm moves down as it tightens, pushing the abdominal contents downward and expanding the abdominal wall outward. When you breathe out, the diaphragm relaxes and air passes out of the lungs while the abdominal wall flattens.
This is also known as diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing. When practiced consistently, it helps you relax, lowers your heart rate, boosts your metabolism and can even help lower blood pressure.
2. Alternate nostril breathing
Alternate nostril breathing is another type of breathing you may have heard of in a yoga class. This type of breathing can be done during meditation or simply to relax.
Sitting comfortably, put your left hand on your left knee and your right hand toward your nose.
After exhaling, use your right thumb to cover your right nostril. Inhale through your left nostril.
Then use your pointer finger to close the left nostril and release your thumb on your right nostril. Exhale through your right nostril.
Once you’ve fully exhaled, inhale through the right nostril while keeping your left nostril covered. Then close your right nostril with your right thumb, release the left nostril and breathe out through your left nostril.
Alternate nostril breathing helps relax your mind, reduce anxiety and restore balance. Practicing this breathing exercise in the morning will help control your daily stresses and improve your mindfulness.
3. Invigorating fist pump breath
This breath pattern focuses on inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. Breathing in through the nose helps your body filter out dust or allergens and increases your lungs’ oxygen levels. Exhaling through the mouth allows more air to escape your body and relaxes your jaw and body.
Sit comfortably with your legs crossed. With your hands in fists, held up near your chest, pump your arms in the air as you exhale.
Then bring the arms down level with your chest as you inhale through the nose.
Adding in the movement of your arms makes this breathing exercise more energizing and elevates the heart rate.
4. Skull shining breathing
This type of breathing is specifically meant for energizing and balancing the mind and body. Because this type of breathing isn’t the most natural, it also helps with mindfulness.
Breathe in deeply through your nose.
At the top of your exhale, begin breathing out sharply through the mouth with forceful blows.
Each exhale should be quick, releasing small bits of air from your lungs until there is no more. Blow out about 10 times per exhale, as if you’re blowing out 10 tiny candles individually. Inhale again naturally, and repeat the process of short, sharp exhaling.
Skull shining breathing improves the function of the heart and lungs while also helping with digestion and related problems such as constipation and gas. The quick exhales work the abdominals and help tone your core.
5. Breath meditation
This may seem the simplest, but I often find my clients struggle with it the most. Focusing on only your breath is extremely difficult when there are so many thoughts in our heads.
This exercise requires a quiet space without distractions.
Sit in a comfortable position and allow yourself to breathe in and out as naturally as possible through your nose. Focus on the air moving in and out of your lungs.
As you breathe in, feel and think about the air moving into your body. As you breathe out, think about releasing stagnant air and energy.
Breath meditation has been known to lower heart rate, lower blood pressure and even ease fatigue. Incorporating breath meditation into your morning routine may help give your body the fresh start it needs to succeed.
In these uncertain times, practicing any of these brief breathing exercises in the morning encourages you to pay attention to one thing that is certain — your breath.
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Stephanie Mansour, host of “Step It Up With Steph” on PBS, is a health and wellness journalist and a consultant and weight loss coach for women.