With a global pandemic on the rise, we all had to make sacrifices and changes in order to adjust to the new way of life. Change is never easy to adjust to, especially for those who are also battling their own mental health. A recent poll has showed that 45% of adults in America reported that worry and stress relating to the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health (Chidambaram, 2020). Day to day, individuals are worried about coming into contact with the virus and even spreading it to others who are at a higher risk of fatality than they are. Everyday routines had to be adjusted in order to flatten the curve, many Americans have even lost their jobs during this time. Losing your source of income and essentially being shut off from the outside world has led many to drown their depression, anxiety, and other disorders in various substances (Chidambaram, 2020).
People turn to things like alcohol and drugs to use as a distraction from what is going on or for a quick escape from reality. This way of coping only damages the state of our mental health even further. It is important to find healthy ways to cope with the stress and anxiety that is brought on by this pandemic. Exercise or yoga is one way to get outside and get our bodies moving, but sometimes this activity can seem like too much for some.
There are different breathing techniques or meditation practices that are beneficial to calming the body down and reducing stress and anxiety. The best part about breathing practices you may ask- they can be done virtually anywhere with little to no effort!
When discussing breathing practices and meditation with Yoga Professor Mark Takacs, he stated, “We know one of the main physiological responses to stress or anxiety is the increased heart rate and breathing frequency. So, taking a couple seconds to stop, slow down your breathing, and really bring your attention to your breath AND what is actually going on in your mind makes a HUGE difference”.
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama- or alternate nostril breathing is just one simple technique that can lead to lower levels of stress and anxiety. The Banyan Botanicals (2020) reported other various benefits this breathing technique exudes; for example, it clears and releases toxins, calms and rejuvenates the nervous system and enhances our ability to concentrate!
This technique is simple: you start by closing one nostril, inhale and hold for a few seconds. Before exhaling, simply close the other nostril- releasing the other side simultaneously and exhale. Inhale back through that nostril and repeat the process.
In order to get a different perspective on this breathing technique, I asked a girl from my yoga class what she thought about alternate nostril breathing. Carly exclaimed that she practices this pranayama right before bed, “I tend to get the most stressed at night when I think about all the work I have to do, this technique allows me to focus on the present moment and feel in control”.
It is important to keep in mind the three different components of our breath: inhalation (Puraka), pause (Kumbhaka) and exhalation (Rechak). The inhale should be the shortest amount of time, about 2-4 seconds while the exhale is the longest, exhaling all of the air from your lungs. When practicing different techniques, or even during mindfulness and meditation practices, make sure that your inhalation is coming from your stomach and not your chest or shoulders because that is a clear sign that we are holding onto stress or anxiety. On the exhale, make sure you are completely letting the air out of your lungs. It may be beneficial to picture the toxins or stress leaving your body on the exhale and picturing clean air entering and cleansing the body and mind on the inhalation.
Another simple breathing practice is Bhramari Pranayama or the Humming Bee Breath. The Art of Living (2020) states that this practice is an effective way to instantly calm our minds and one of the best exercises to reduce frustration or anxiety.
To practice the Humming Bee Breath, find a quiet place and sit straight up with your eyes closed, it is best to keep a simple smile or relaxed face. Next, place your index fingers on the cartilage part of your ear-adjacent to your cheek bones. Take a deep breathe in and hold for a few seconds. On the exhale- gently press on the cartilage while making a humming sound like a humming bee. Repeat this process about 6 times or until you start to feel your body relax.
This practice may seem odd at first, but it is one of the fastest ways to reduce stress and anxiety. There are also different variations to each practice so find what is most comfortable or beneficial for you. These were just two examples of breathing practices that can help with managing our mental health, there are a variety of different practices out there so do no be afraid to experiment. If breathing techniques helped to calm your mind and body, meditation might be beneficial for you! It is a nice way to escape reality in a healthy way instead of indulging back into negative practices.
Change is difficult but there are ways that we can cope and stay healthy, stay strong and remember to breathe.
Bhramari Pranayama (Bee Breath). (n.d.). Retrieved May 08, 2020, from https://www.artofliving.org/us-en/yoga/breathing-techniques/bhramari-pranayama
Chidambaram, P. (2020, April 21). The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use. Retrieved from https://www.kff.org/health-reform/report/kff-health-tracking-poll-early-april-2020/
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/ayurvedic-living/living-ayurveda/yoga/nadi-shodhana-pranayama/