You may have read my introduction to breath-work for relaxation last week, if not, then you can find part 1 of this article here. This week I’ll introduce you to three more breathing exercises that can help reduce anxiety and cravings. It’s generally helpful to practice these a few times when you can focus undisturbed. Once you get the hang of it, many of these methods are very portable. Your breath is always with you. Being alcohol free allows the awareness to access the breath to change the way you feel in the moment.
I like to do this one lying on the floor, but you can also lie on a couch or a bed, whatever is comfortable. You can also try it sitting up in a chair or on a cushion if that feels better. This technique facilitates very deep and full breaths, which stimulates the stretch receptors in your chest and activate the relaxation response. Once you have learned this breathing method, you can do it a few times whenever you feel anxious or stressed – you don’t have to lie down or close your eyes. You can practice in a meeting or sitting in traffic, and no one will even notice, but you’ll feel better.
- Lie on your back and place your right hand over your heart in the middle of your chest. Rest your left hand on your stomach, just above your navel. Close your eyes.
- EXHALE through your nose.
- As you slowly INHALE through your nose, focus on your belly and abdomen as it rises. Your left hand will start to lift with the inhale.
- Continue to INHALE and notice your right hand lifting as your mid-chest rises.
- Finally, as you keep INHALING, focus on the upper part of your lungs near the collarbones, and fill those with air.
- PAUSE for just a moment, then reverse the process as you slowly EXHALE through the nose.
- Release the air from your upper chest, mid-chest as your right hand lowers, and abdomen begins to fall toward your spine.
- Repeat the process – INHALE – abdomen, mid-chest, upper chest rise – and EXHALE – upper chest, mid-chest, abdomen relax.
- Set a timer so you can practice for about 5-15 minutes, or count your breath cycles. Repeat for 5-10 cycles.
Full Body Relaxation
You can practice this lying down or sitting up. If you are having trouble sleeping, you can use this technique to help focus your mind.
- Lie on your back or sit up in a chair. Let your hands rest by your sides or in your lap if you are sitting
- Breath in and out through your nose. Start with a slow deep breath in and slow exhale.
- Starting at the top of your head, as you INHALE notice any tension in your scalp, temples, back of the head, etc. As you EXHALE, let that go.
- On the next INHALE, move your attention to your face – forehead, eyes, cheeks, mouth, jaw – feel the tense areas there. EXHALE and release.
- Move to your neck and throat when you INHALE. EXHALE the tension.
- Continue in that fashion all the way down your body – INHALE and notice; EXHALE and release.
- Shoulders: INHALE/EXHALE
- Arms, wrists, hands, and fingers: INHALE/EXHALE
- Upper chest, collarbones, and shoulder blades: INHALE/EXHALE
- Stomach and mid-back: INHALE/EXHALE
- Navel, lower abdomen, and lumbar spine: INHALE/EXHALE
- Hips and buttocks: INHALE/EXHALE
- Thighs, knees, and calves: INHALE/EXHALE
- Ankles, feet, and toes: INHALE/EXHALE
- Take a few more breaths in this state of relaxation.
- When you are ready to get up, move your fingers and toes, wrists and ankles. Roll over to your right side in the fetal position. Take a moment here, then use your hands to help you sit up.
- Take one more cleansing breath, in and out. Then go about your day.
Nadi Sodhana – Alternate Nostril Breathing
Ok, this one is a little more complex than the others, but once you get the hang of it, the technique can bring balance to the emotions. This is especially useful when you are hit by cravings for alcohol. Yogic wisdom says this type of breathing balances the left and right sides of the brain and calms the nervous system. Science backs that up with research showing that certain breath manipulation contributes to a slower heart rate, lower blood pressure, and increased theta wave activity on EEG.*
- First, clear your nasal passages by blowing your nose.
- Sit upright on a cushion or in a chair.
- Using the right hand, create the Mrigi Mudra – bring your index and middle fingers down to touch your palm, and keep the thumb, ring, and pinky fingers extended.
- Gently depress your right nostril with your right thumb. Slowly INHALE through your LEFT nostril. Before you exhale, release the thumb from the right and close off the left nostril with your ring finger. EXHALE through the RIGHT nostril.
- Then INHALE through the RIGHT nostril. Before you exhale, release the left and close the right. EXHALE through the LEFT nostril.
- INHALE LEFT, EXHALE RIGHT – INHALE RIGHT, EXHALE LEFT.
- Repeat the pattern for about 3 rounds on each side, ending with an EXHALE on the LEFT nostril.
- Maintain and gentle and steady inhale and exhale without using force in either direction. Try to keep your inhales and exhales the same length.
Now you have several ways to work with your breath to benefit your mind. I encourage you to try these and discover what works best for you. There are many breathing methods that are beneficial, so explore what’s out there. Books abound, from the spiritual to the scientific, they run the spectrum. Find something for yourself that brings you peace of mind and lets you bypass that urge to drink. You don’t need alcohol to calm you, you’ve already got what you need within you!
*Ravinder, J, Edry, J, Barnes, V, Jerath, V. Physiology of long pranayamic breathing: Neural respiratory elements may provide a mechanism that explains how slow deep breathing shifts the autonomic nervous system. Medical Hypotheses (2006).