Do you remember the last time you felt happy?
I mean really happy.
Maybe a vacation with your family comes to mind. Or a date with your partner. Or a peaceful walk through your favorite park.
Whether the joyful experience happened months ago or yesterday, you probably remember how you felt.
You weren’t worried about bills or your latest work drama. You weren’t involved in any Facebook feuds that sent your blood pressure through the roof. Everything was easy: you experienced the simplicity of enjoying your life.
And, if you’re like most of us, you never wanted that joyful experience to end. You would’ve done anything to extend that vacation, that meal, that walk. Just so you could stay happy for a bit longer.
Unfortunately, ecstatic evenings come to an end. Monday always comes around. Time passes and there is nothing any of us can do about it.
But there is a way to bring more joy into your life.
And it doesn’t involve retiring at 40 or going on a year-long vacation (not that I’m against either of those things!).
It starts with a deep breath and a bit of awareness.
Right now, you have the power to sweep away distractions and experience the joy of living in the present moment.
The easiest way to anchor yourself in the present requires no advanced training and no special equipment. You just need to breathe.
The Healing Power of Your Breath
“Take a deep breath…”
If you’ve ever taken a slow, deep breath when you’re feeling worked-up about something, you know how incredibly powerful it can be. Your muscles relax as a wave of calm washes over you.
In traditional yoga practice, breath regulation (pranayama) is just as important as the postures (asana) that most of us associate with yoga.
Plus, recent research suggests that deep breathing can have a profound physiological impact on stress, as it can “slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure.” On top of that, yogic breathing practices may also improve practitioner’s immune response.
Try this simple exercise:
Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Aim to inhale for 6 or more seconds and exhale for 6 or more seconds.
Then open your eyes and notice if you feel any difference in how you feel. Did any tense muscles relax? Do you feel a greater sense of calm or ease?
If just one deep breath can impact how you feel, imagine what a regular breathing practice could do for you.
Deep Breathing + Using Your Breath as Your Anchor
When I first learned Deep Breathing (also called “Centering Breathing”), I thought it was a waste of time. How could something this simple do anything?
But one day, I had to speak in front of a large group. And I felt super anxious.
I only had a few minutes to calm myself down.
As the clock ticked toward my imminent speech, I knew I had to try something. My mind was racing and I could barely focus.
But then I remembered a Deep Breathing exercise that I’d learned in a yoga class a few weeks before.
I closed my eyes and focused my full attention on my breathing. I completed the brief exercise to the best of my ability. And right when I finished, it was time for me to speak.
I was surprised to discover that my antsy, shaky, high-anxiety feelings had been replaced with a confident, calm focus. I still felt amped-up and a little nervous, but I had replaced my fear with the kind of relaxed control that I needed to perform my best.
After that, I knew I had to learn more about how breathing could help me perform under pressure. So I took classes on yogic breathing and started a daily breathing practice.
After all of that, my favorite breathing exercise is still the simplest: Deep Breathing.
3-Minute Calm Focus: Deep Breathing
Find a comfortable but upright seated position. If you’d prefer, you can practice standing or lying down…as long as you don’t fall asleep!
Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath.
- First, just notice your breath. Allow it to be as it is normally.
- Begin to breathe deeper and more slowly. Without forcing the breath, see how fully you can breathe.
- Feel how your body moves with each breath: notice movement in your belly, chest, back, and shoulders.
- Pause at the end of each inhale and exhale, holding your breath for 1-2 seconds.
- Continue breathing in this manner for 3 minutes. Notice if your thoughts wander. When they do, just bring your attention back to your breath.
- When you are finished, allow your breath to return to normal and blink your eyes open.
Give yourself 30 seconds to observe how you feel. Does your body feel tense or relaxed? What kinds of thoughts do you notice?
If you want, you could just practice Deep Breathing and not learn the next exercise – it’s that useful.
But if you’re like me, you like to have options. Every breathing exercise has a different impact on how I feel and sometimes I prefer one over the other. The next breathing exercise is a little more complicated, but it’s extraordinarily powerful.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Return to a comfortable seated or standing position. Feel free to close your eyes or keep them open with a soft gaze.
In this practice, you’ll use your right thumb to close your right nostril and your right ring finger to close your left nostril (see photo — courtesy of www.yogaoutlet.com).
- Close your right nostril with your thumb and gently exhale through your left nostril.
- Then inhale through your left nostril.
- Close the left nostril with your ring finger and exhale through your right nostril.
- Now inhale through your right nostril. Close your right nostril with your thumb, open the left nostril, and exhale through the left. You’ve now completed one round of alternate nostril breathing!
- Complete 5-10 rounds of breathing in this manner.
- Aim to breathe slowly and fully.
- If you’d like, pause at the end of each inhale and exhale, holding your breath for 1-2 seconds.
- After completing 5-10 rounds, release your nostrils and allow your breath to return to normal.
Again, give yourself 30 seconds to observe how you feel after this brief Alternate Nostril Breathing practice.
Want all of this in a convenient download? Get your free Calm Down cheat sheet:
Breath Awareness = Present Moment Awareness
When practicing exercises like Deep Breathing and Alternate Nostril Breathing, your breath serves as an anchor that keeps you grounded in the present moment.
In each of these exercises, you’re reinforcing your ability to live in the present, rather than getting swept up in distracting thoughts.
How did these breathing exercises make you feel? Everyone is unique and I’d love to hear about your experience. Write a comment below!