It's well documented that proper breathing can relieve your brain of mental fog, enhance clarity and boost your mood. With so many variations on breathing techniques, however, just putting together a routine can seem daunting. The good news is that you can't go wrong with most of the protocols suggested because they all revolve around the same pillars - clearing the mind and focusing solely on your breathing. With that being said, here are a few variations of breathing techniques you can follow depending on what you would like to focus on.
1. Count Your Breaths
Why Use This: Counting your breaths is an easy routine for people of all levels to try. Use this technique when you want to relax and become one with the present.
How It's Done: Pick an arbitrary number. Typically it is recommended to pick a number between 5 or 10. You then want to count each breath you take and once you reach your number, reset and start from 0 again. If at any moment you count past your number it's because you are thinking about things other than your breathing. Bring yourself back to your breath and continue with your meditation.
2. Alternating Nostril Breaths
Why Use This: Often referred to as 'nadi shodhan' - alternating nostril breathing is used when you want to excite your system and energize the body. You should avoid doing this before bed or when you want to relax.
How It's Done: Put a finger over one side of your nose to close a nostril, inhale deeply with the other nostril. Hold that breath for a few moments and then switch your finger and forcefully exhale with the newly freed nostril. Repeat 5-10 times. After repeating this a few times you should feel a new sense of energy and invigoration in your body. Take care to not rush your breaths.
Why Use This: Mental visualization is used when trying to calm yourself and relax. It is best used before bed or in the morning before starting your day. It is more of an advanced technique because it requires more concentration and a little more time than the previous two routines.
How It's Done: You can be sitting down or laying down, whichever makes you comfortable. Begin regular deep breathing and as you do, envision yourself in a happy place. It does not matter where it is but try to focus on all the nuances and details of your setting. If you find your ability to visualize dwindle, go back to focusing on the oxygen enter and exit your body until you're back in your trance. Mental visualization is a powerful tool and a great way to be in the present. You can use one of the many YouTube videos with guided visualization to help you focus even more.
4. "The Wim Hof Method"
Why Use This: Wim Hof is a world renowned daredevil who holds numerous Guinness World Records. He is famous for his methods using cold exposure therapy. He has dedicated his life to using the body's own abilities to cope with depression, lack of motivation and low energy. Wim Hof has been the subject of many scientific studies evaluating the limits of our body. In his recent Ted Talk he explains his breathing methods are used to energize the body. He advocates for actively practicing your ability to control your breathing.
How It's Done: This technique is slightly more advanced than the others because it has 3 phases. First, deeply inhale and exhale 25 - 30 times through your mouth. Your breath should make a 'woosh' noise with each inhale/exhale. After the final breath, exhale out completely and hold this for as long as you can with no air in your lungs. Finally, inhale deeply and hold your breath in for as long as you can. Once you cannot hold it any longer take a few normal breaths and repeat the entire cycle two more times. During your second and third repetitions, you will notice you can already hold your breath for longer. With all the oxygen being pumped into your system you may feel a little light headed or feel some tingling. If this seems a little confusing, here is a link for a visual understanding of the system.
Hopefully some of these techniques will fit with your goals. Try them out and see which one works for you. Be sure to leave a comment if you found this useful or perhaps would like some further research/clarification!