Yogic Breathing for Depression and Stress Relief

When was the last time that you breathed correctly? Seems like a trick question, right? After all, you breathe all the time, without even thinking about it. However, while our bodies breathe naturally throughout each day, most of us are actually not breathing correctly. Most of us take short, shallow breaths.

Shallow breathing over time can contribute to feelings of depression, stress, and anxiety. Becoming aware of your breath through targeted yoga breathing exercises can prevent many of these issues from developing within the body.

Begin by Noticing your Breath

Before you can address your breathing habits, you need to become aware of them. Stop and take a moment to listen and observe your breathing. Are you taking long, slow breaths? Or, are you breathing in a short and almost rushed manner? Do you breathe mostly in the upper part of your chest, or does your belly move in a deep rhythmical motion with each breath?

When our breathing is short and shallow in nature, and mostly located in the upper part of our chest, it's the type of breath associated with the fight or flight response. When we breathe in this way, we are inadvertently signaling to our body that it is being threatened. And, the natural response of the body to such stimuli is to increase stress and anxiety levels.

Yoga in general and yoga therapy in particular is one of the few forms of "exercise," which helps people to become more aware of and deepen their current breathing patterns. The result is generally deeply relaxing and soothing, and it will often lift feelings of depression or erase stress and anxiety. With a long-term practice, as the breath gets freed up, yoga breathing, or pranayama, can be quite transformational for both mind and body.

A very simple exercise to help you focus on your breath is to place your hands over your abdomen and your chest, focusing on simply feeling your breath. Focus on inhaling and exhaling through the nose. As you do so, you may naturally feel the breath begin to slow, become deeper and more calm. You can work on your breathing while sitting or while lying on the floor with your legs straight.

Yoga breathing practices are best learned from a teacher giving oral instructions, so you can relax into the practice and allow body and mind to settle down and let go. To get the full benefits of a yoga breathing or pranayama practice, you also need to set aside a little time for your practice, and give yourself some space to settle down and let go. If you want to try yoga breathing, we recommend finding a local yoga class, which includes a focus on the breath. If you wish to experience the benefits of yoga breathing in your own home, we also recommend Breathe To Beat the Blues by LifeForce Yoga founder Amy Weintraub, which offers a wonderful, soothing breathing practice to introduce a great sense of clarity, calmness, and peace. To download an MP3 file of the breathing practices in Breathe to Beat the Blues, simply click here.  For best results, integrate yoga breathing with a regular yoga asanas practice.