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An Effective Breathing Technique to Relieve Anxiety

The three-part breath (dirgha pranayama) can be practiced at any time and place to breathe deeper, increase focus and calm your nervous system.



When I was in college, I struggled with an overwhelming sense of anxiety. I would constantly put pressure on myself to perform higher and achieve more — it felt like a suffocating cloud hanging over my head.


Eventually, I started to feel numb and tingly in my hands. This sensation was a scary wakeup call. I went to the doctor and they told me I was breathing too shallowly, causing hyperventilation. I knew this lifestyle wasn’t sustainable and it was time to make a change. I started going to yoga a few times a week, meditating in the mornings and practicing breathing techniques to calm my anxiousness. Slowing down and bringing awareness to my breath transformed my mindset and had noticeable impacts on my health. I slept better throughout the night and felt calmer throughout the day. The numbness in my hands went away and I was able to think clearer — the heavy cloud finally lifted.


One of my favorite breathing techniques that I still practice years later is a three-part breath called dirgha pranayama (also spelled dirga). It involves bringing the breath into the diaphragm, lungs and chest. Studies show that this breathing practice allows you to fill up with seven times more air than a shallow breath.


What are the benefits of dirgha pranayama?

  • Lengthens the inhales and exhales by utilizing the entire lung capacity to breathe

  • Allows the proper amount of oxygen to be delivered to the blood vessels, organs and muscles

  • Slows down the heart rate and lowers blood pressure

  • Calms and focuses the mind by concentrating on each inhale and exhale

  • Reduces stress and anxiety by soothing the nervous system


How do I practice dirgha pranayama?


I filmed a short YouTube tutorial that can be done at any time of day. You can also practice this breath multiple times a day. Even a few rounds of breath will make a difference!



Here are the steps from the video:

  • Find a comfortable position. You can take a cross-legged seat, sit on a chair with your feet on the floor, or even lay down

  • Close your eyes or gently gaze at the tip of your nose

  • Begin by taking a few rounds of breath in and out of your nose. Notice if your breath is shallow or deep. Pay attention to where your breath is concentrated in your body

  • Start the three-part breath:

    • Inhale:

      • Breathe air into your lower belly

      • Then let the air fill your ribs

      • Then let the air fill your chest

    • Exhale:

      • Let the air out of your chest

      • Let the air out of your ribs

      • Let the air out of your belly

  • Continue doing this breath for 5 or more rounds

  • Once you feel complete, return to your normal inhale and exhale


Tips to try:

  • You can place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your belly to feel the breath as it moves into each section

  • You can picture the breath filling up like a water jug (from the bottom to the top) and then releasing like water being poured out (from the top to the bottom)

  • Fully fill up and empty your breath, but without straining or feeling uncomfortable. Let the breath be smooth

  • Proceed with caution if you have respiratory conditions like asthma or emphysema. Pause if you feel faint or dizzy during the breath work


I often practice this breath before giving a presentation at work or having a difficult conversation. I notice I typically feel less flustered and can make decisions in a calmer manner. How do you feel after taking the time to focus and expand your breath?


Leave me a comment below and let me know about your experience or if you use other techniques to relieve anxiety. If you found this method helpful, make sure to share it with your colleagues, friends and family and subscribe to my YouTube channel for more tutorials.


With gratitude,

Shannon

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