Life always has its challenges, but the past two years have added a significant layer of stress into the mix. Trying to maintain the expectations of modern life—hustle, earn, influence, partner, procreate, halt climate change, dismantle the racist heteropatriarchy (all while never aging!)—was difficult enough before the introduction of an unprecedented-in-our-lifetimes-pandemic. Which is why it's more important than ever to have readily accessible tools for calming TF down—like, for example, quick and easy, 5-minute breathing exercises for stress reduction.
Breathwork is a form of meditation that relies on the body, rather than the mind, to do the work of calming. It lowers stress by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system and increasing oxygen to the brain (and yes, there is actual science backing these benefits).
One of the best things about breathwork is that you don't need any kind of expertise or formal training to practice it. Plus, breathing exercises can be somewhat easier than meditation to master (so to speak), as they don't require you to battle your incessantly babbling brain in order to reap the benefits. And because "busy" is the biggest buzzword of modern times, it helps that breathwork doesn't require a long stretch of time spent practicing in order to be effective.
Below, two experts—Maryam Ajayi, founder of Dive in Well and a certified practitioner of breathwork, and Stevie Wright, a self-love coach and breathwork facilitator—share their go-to breathing exercises for stress reduction. In just five minutes, they'll help to chill out your rightly frazzled mind, body, and soul.
Maryam Ajay's breathwork exercise for honoring and releasing
Ajay's favorite five-minute breathwork exercise is designed to prevent you from taking on the emotions of others. "This is a practice for exploring your inner landscape in order to discern between what is theirs, what is not, and what must be released in order to thrive," she says.
1. "Bring an intention to an emotion you are present with in this moment, an emotion that you may be uncomfortable with. It could be rage, anger, shame, sadness," says Ajayi.
2. Next, name the emotion on which you're focused, and pay attention to how you're experiencing it. "How does it sit in your body? Where does it sit in your body? Take the time to be present and feel for about one minute," she advises.
3. "Then, explore whether or not this emotion is yours," she says. "So simply ask: is this emotion mine? And if it is not, can you release it?"
4. "If this does not belong to you, I'll then have you ask, 'Can I release it with ease?'," says Ajayi. She then advises taking a deep breath in, and on your exhale, release and let go.
5. "If the emotion is yours, give yourself permission to feel and also release to make space for what serves you," she advises. "Breathing in: feeling. Breathing out: releasing."
6. Try this for a few minutes or "until you feel complete," Ajayi says.
Stevie Wright's breathwork practice to ease anxiety, get grounded, and release stress
1. Gently close your eyes.
2. Take a few deep breaths to settle.
3. Breathe in through your nose on a count of six.
4. Breathe out through your mouth on a count of seven.
5. Repeat this pattern for four minutes.
6. "Visualize rest, ease, flow coming into your body on the inhale, and tension, stress, and fear release on the exhale," says Wright. "On each exhale, soften your shoulders even more; feel your muscles letting go."
7. After the 4 minutes, sit in silence for one more minute before opening your eyes.
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