Believe it or not, being mindful of your breathing can help improve your immune system and reduce stress. According to a study in the University of South Carolina, adults who practice breathing exercises for just 20 minutes (in 2 sets of ten minutes) have significantly lower levels of three cytokines that are associated with inflammation an d stress in their saliva. Making controlled breathing a habit can help you fall asleep easily, or give you energy like a shot of caffeine, can help your muscles relax and overall reduce anxiety and stress levels.
Here are 4 breathing exercises you can do at your work (at your desk or an open space nearby) that will have immediate and long term positive effects on your mind and body:
1. The basic inhale-exhale
You can do this exercise at your desk without drawing any attention to yourself. It helps you drive away negative or distracting thoughts, and focus on the task at hand. When practiced at night in bed, it can help you fall asleep.
Inhale through your nose on a count of 4. Pause for a count of 2, exhale through your nose for a count of 4. Repeat. Repeat this 10 times as a set, and do this as often as you like. It is harder than it seems, given our tendency to breathe shallow and quick, especially when we are distracted or stressed. Over time, you may be able to inhale and exhale on longer counts. With every breath, take all the oxygen in, and exhale all the toxins out.
2. Abdominal Breathing
Are you stressed out before a big project, important presentation or due to some other trigger? This breathing exercise can immediately lower your heart rate and blood pressure, making you feel calmer and relaxed. Keep at it for six to eight weeks, and those benefits might stick around even longer.
With one hand on the chest and the other on the belly, take a deep breath in through the nose, ensuring the diaphragm (not the chest) inflates with enough air to create a stretch in the lungs. Do this for 6 to 10 deep, slow breaths per minute for 10 minutes each day.
3. Progressive Relaxation
If you feel tensed from head to toe, just take out a few minutes to relax every muscle in your body. You can do this literally everywhere- even while flying.
Close your eyes and focus on tensing and relaxing each muscle group for two to three seconds each. Start with the feet and toes, then move up to the knees, thighs, glutes, chest, arms, hands, neck, jaw, and eyes - all while maintaining deep, slow breaths. To keep a track of your movements and breath, breathe in through the nose, hold for a count of five while the muscles tense, then breathe out through the mouth on release.
4. Alternate Nostril Breathing
Skip your afternoon coffee and try this exercise for a shot of energy instead. It will take the same time, and will have none of the side effects.
Starting in a comfortable meditative pose, hold the right thumb over the right nostril and inhale deeply through the left nostril. At the peak of inhalation, close off the left nostril with the ring finger, then exhale through the right nostril. Continue the pattern, inhaling through the right nostril, closing it off with the right thumb, and exhaling through the left nostril.
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