Use yoga breathing to de-stress

Dan Murray-Serter
Co-Founder

Breathe in...1...2...3…4. Breathe out...1...2...3...4.

That probably felt pretty slow, right? Breathing exercises for stress are slow, because the slower you breathe, the calmer you’ll feel. Most of us are under constant, chronic stress—it’s just one of the facts of modern-day living. Always being ‘on’, and juggling work, life, deadlines, admin, social engagements, and home responsibilities can mean that our stress response is triggered many times throughout the day. This is different to the way we evolved to feel stress, like when we were being chased by a lion. 

One of the ways stress can manifest in the body is in the breath. Instead of using our diaphragm, and telling our parasympathetic nervous system that we’re safe—we breathe quick, shallow breaths high up in our chests, which signals our body that we’re in danger.

Yoga breathing exercises are a fantastic way to learn how to calm our breath, and ease our stress response in the process. Here’s how. 

Control your breath (and de-stress) with yoga

The benefits of yoga are myriad, from the visually obvious physical benefits to the underlying improvements in habit-forming, happiness, and management of stress and anxiety.

A huge component of how it can provide all these benefits is through its connection to your breath. Breathing doesn’t take any conscious thought, it just happens, BUT how you breathe is directly related to how you react, and vice versa.

If you’re dashing around all day, or drowning under looming deadlines, chances are that your breathing is rapid, shallow, and only into your chest. Breathing this way is exciting to your nervous system (not in a good way), and triggers a stress response - putting you in a reactive state at any given time.

Notice your breath now

Take a second, and notice how you’re breathing right now (without changing it).

“Most people tend to breathe between 12 and 20 breaths per minute,” says yoga pro, Tim Senesi. During a typical yoga class, your breath slows right down to about six breaths per minute. “Practicing this slow, rhythmic breathing has a very soothing effect on your mind,” which helps to soothe stress and anxiety, says Tim.

A consistent practice of slowing down the breath creates change in the way you naturally respond to stress. Yoga teaches you to “breathe fully into your lungs,” which “has a direct effect on your mental serenity.” The science behind this is to do with the connection between the breath and the vagus nerve - which allows your parasympathetic nervous to activate, and balance out your fight-or-flight response.

Yoga can sometimes be pretty stressful

Ever tried to stay in tree pose for an extended period of time? Or pigeon without weeping gently into your mat? You can use any part of yoga that triggers a stress response to practice slowing your breath. By sticking with the challenge and responding to it calmly on the mat, instead of getting fed up and giving in, you should be able to take this practice out of the studio - and into your life.

FOR THE NERDY: How yoga can sort your life out (Psychology Today)