How Practicing Yoga Pranayama Can Help With Stress

Posted by Dana Bender

pranayama-yoga

There are various reasons why individual stress levels might be higher than usual in today’s climate. Not only are there unknowns surrounding the pandemic and its resolution, but many fitness professionals are still facing long-term changes to their work environment and personal routines.

Incorporating calming yoga pranayama, or breath regulation practices, is a type of stress management technique that can help soothe the sympathetic nervous system, known as a fight-or-flight stress response.

If this content interests you, consider becoming a yoga instructor through AFAA to learn even more about breathing techniques. 

The Benefits of "Nadi Shodhana" (Nostril Breathing)

There are various types of yoga pranayama techniques available. One style that reduces stress response is a breathing technique called “nadi shodhana," also known as alternate nostril breathing. “Nadi” means tunnel, often seen as a pathway for the passage of breath or prana, and “Sodhana” means purifying or cleansing.

The goal of practicing this technique is to clear the mind, purify and expand the breath, and slow down the respiration rate to activate the relaxation response. Doing so will often help individuals clear the mind and calm the body and mind to better manage and reduce stress.

For those new to this technique and are learning it for the first time, it is best to focus first on learning the flow of breath in and out during this technique instead of other details. Listed below are steps to try and understand this technique for the beginner.

Step 1: Set-up

Make a soft fist with your right hand, and bring it towards your nose. Use the ring finger/pinky fingers to close the left nostril softly and use your thumb to softly close your right nostril. It is best not to force the nostrils closed and instead softly put pressure on the nostrils without stopping the breath. The final part of the set-up is to close the eyes to turn the attention inward or keep the gaze soft at one spot.

Step 2: Breathing Practice

To get started, softly close the right nostril’s airway with your thumb, and slowly inhale the breath through the left nostril. After inhaling entirely through the left nostril, gently close off the left nostril's airway, and exhale the breath slowly out the right nostril.

After exhaling completely out the right nostril, inhale the breath up the right nostril, close the right nostril, and exhale fully out the left nostril. This entire cycle is one round of this alternate nostril breathing practice. Repeat this same sequence for three to five minutes. Allow the inhales and exhales to slow down and become even and smooth throughout this breathing practice.

Step 3: End with Mindfulness

After three to five minutes of practicing alternate nostril breathing, finish the last round by exhaling slowly out the left nostril, and lower the raised hand. Take a moment to stop this controlled breathing technique and start to breathe naturally.

It is best to keep the eyes closed to scan the body and mind for any noticeable changes from practicing this technique. Notice any positive impact on the physical body, mental state, and internal awareness. Be receptive to the subtle differences from the breathwork, and observe. Pay attention if the stress response has dissipated slightly or entirely.

Any stress management technique, such as alternate nostril breathing, will be most effective after regular practice. It is best to practice this technique to become more skillful at using this in times of high stress. Regular practice will build its effectiveness in activating the relaxation response.

Conclusion: 

Many fitness and health professionals are still working virtually, and/or might be back onsite with various COVID-19 related changes to facility processes and operations. In either scenario, there are unique stressors within the nature of the new working environment and the strategies enacted to best help the clientele. Even if a person is successfully coping with the new normal and moving forward proactively, there might be subconscious stress accumulated due to the situation.

In times like these, it becomes essential that we learn and cultivate an effective stress management tool. It is crucial to pick a stress management technique that successfully activates the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the relaxation response, by slowing down the breath and calming the mind. When selecting a stress management technique, it is important to remember that “practice makes progress."

As a stress management educator, I often tell my clients that a relaxation technique will be most effective when the method is refined and has been regularly practiced over time. This requires an individual to initially learn the technique and then regularly practice it to get more skillful at using it. This regular practice will allow individuals to more aptly use the technique in times of high-level stress when anxious thoughts and/or the emotional fight or flight response tries to get in the way of calming down.

Topics: stress, yoga instructor

Dana Bender

About the Author:

Dana Bender, MS, ACSM, CWWS, E-RYT. Dana Bender works as a fitness and wellness Program Manager for Health Fitness Corporation in downtown Chicago. Dana is also a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach, an adjunct professor with Rowan University, and an E-RYT 200 hour Registered Yoga Alliance Teacher.

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