Meditation Tips for Anxiety: Breathing Exercises

Hi guys!

I hope you’ve had a wonderful start to your week! Last Saturday, I shared a few tips on how to start meditating, and mentioned my three favorite breathing exercises. As promised, I’ve shared them here! Let me know if they work for you, and if you have any other meditation tips up your sleeve.

1. Triangle Breathing

This breathing exercise was - and is - the most powerful tool for me when I was going through a period of extreme anxiety. You know that cascade that happens when you’re on the way to a panic attack, when your hearts starts pounding and your hands start shaking and your breathing gets all erratic?

The first time I experienced that cascade, I genuinely thought I was having a heart attack. After almost a month of panic attacks, I knew something had to change. That’s when I found out about Triangle Breathing, and how this simple breathing exercise stops panic attacks in its tracks. How, you might ask? It draws our attention away from whatever is causing the panic attack and focuses it on our diaphragm, a muscle at the base of our lungs. It reduces stress by deactivating the fight-or-flight response and sends a powerful signal of safety to the brain. Even better? You can use it every day, as part of your daily meditation practice.

Here’s how to use Triangle Breathing as part of your daily routine.

  • Find a comfortable seated or lying position. First, think of the breath as a triangle with three equal sides: an inhalation, a hold in, and an exhale. Inhale deeply, counting until your lungs are full. Hold the breath for the same amount of time, then exhale, counting to the same number and emptying the lungs.

  • The goal of the pranayama, or breath practice, is to lengthen the sides of the triangle. This sends signals of peace and calm to the brain, stopping the stress and panic cascade in its tracks and setting your day off to a relaxed start.

2. Alternate Nostril Breathing

I’ll be honest: the first time I tried Alternate Nostril Breathing, I thought it was the weirdest thing I’d ever done. It is weird (and a little funny looking and feeling), but it’s also got a myriad of benefits: lowering stress, anxiety, and mental tension, slowing your heart rate, and balancing and purifying your nadis, or energy channels. It’s also perfect for a meditation practice because it forces you to focus on the breath and the practice.

  • Find a comfortable seated position. Sit up straight and relax your face and jaw. Bend your index and middle fingers, keeping your thumb, ring finger, and pinkie extended. (This mudra, or hand position, is known as mrigi mudra.)

  • Close your right nostril with your right thumb, and inhale deeply through your left nostril.

  • Once your lungs are filled, close your left nostril with your right ring finger, and release your right nostril.

  • Exhale through the right nostril. Once your lungs are emptied, keep your left nostril closed and inhale deeply through the right nostril.

  • At the top of the inhale, close your right nostril, and release your left. Exhale deeply from your left nostril, making sure your inhales and exhales are of equal length.

  • Repeat for the length of your meditation practice.

3. Three-Part Breathing

Not to be confused with Triangle Breathing, Three-Part Breathing is a yoga technique often taught to new practicers. The three parts — belly, ribcage, and upper chest — are the focus of the practice, centering your mind and breath.

  • Find a comfortable seated or lying position where your back is straight and there’s no compression in your abdomen. Close yours eyes and let your breath come naturally through your nose.

  • Place your left hand on your stomach and your right hand on your chest, right above your heart. Focus on the breath as it moves in and out of your body, feeling your belly lift and your ribs expand on the inhale, and drop on the exhale.

  • On your next inhale, breathe deeply, filling up your lungs. Feel the belly lift, the rips expand, and the chest raise. On your exhale, focus on the three parts: first, your belly will lower, then your ribs will contract, and finally, your chest will drop.

  • Continue breathing, making sure your inhales and exhales are of equal length while concentrating on the rise and fall of your chest, ribs, and stomach.

What are your favorite meditation tips? How do you use breathing exercises when meditating?