You’re reading First Thing, a weekly series on HuffPost UK helping to make your mornings happier and healthier.
We’re told so often that taking a deep breath – or several of them when we’re stressed or overwhelmed – can do wonders for our wellbeing. So it’s no wonder doing breathing exercises before you get up in the morning is a great way to start the day right.
The best thing about it? You get a few extra minutes in bed, and you don’t have to move (too much). Just lie there, relax, and focus on exactly what you’re doing in that moment, rather than the prep you’ve got to do for work.
The short bit of science is: when you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down. It’s that simple. Practise these techniques below for up to five minutes in the morning, or until you feel ready to get up and go.
The Balance Breath Technique
Aimee Hartley, from The Breathing Room and author of Breathe Well says this one helps slow the breath rate down. “We all breathe far too quickly and this creates a shallow breath,” she says. Slowing the breath to six breaths per minute is ideal for calming the nervous system and has a positive affect on all other systems of the body, she says.
How to do it: “Place your hands on your lower belly and breathe in through the nose for a count of five. Breathe out for a count of five. Encourage the lower belly to rise but don’t force it (it will happen naturally over time).”
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Hartley says this technique soothes the nervous system, regulates body temperature, increases lung volume, as well as reducing blood pressure and heart rate. It’s a bit of a longer one, so strap in!
You might want to read this a few times before trying, or record yourself on your phone talking through the steps, then play it to yourself in the morning.
Sit in an upright but relaxed position.
Take a few long slow breaths in and out of the nose: when you breathe in feel the belly rise and sitting bones connect with the floor or chair. When you breathe out, soften the shoulders, face and jaw. Always allow space between the top jaw and bottom jaw. Over-thinking a situation can make the facial muscles tense – encourage these muscles to soften.
Scan your body for any tension or feelings. Simple bring your awareness to any sensations throughout the body.
Raise your left index or ring finger, press on the outside of your left nostril, enough to block 90% of the airflow.
Inhale slowly through the right nostril.
Hold the breath in momentarily with your awareness of the expanse of the lower belly.
With the right index finger, block the right nostril and breathe out slowly through the left nostril.
Now breathe in through the left nostril, hold the breath and block the left nostril and breathe out through the right nostril.
Then breathe in through the right nostril. Suspend the breath. And breathe out through the left nostril.
Repeat this rhythm for five to 20 rounds.
This method, from Hartley’s book, activates the “rest and digest” system, she says, as well as relaxing the diaphragm and easing stress instantly.
How to do it: “Have your hands resting in your lap with the palms facing upwards. Slide your right hand under your left hand. Move the right thumb to the centre of the left palm and apply pressure to the centre of the palm of the left hand. This acupressure point is for the diaphragm and can help release tension from the respiratory muscles. Close the eyes and breathe gently with all the focus on the breath and be aware of the pressure you are placing on the palm of your hand. Breathing in through the nose and out through the nose or mouth, whichever is more comfortable. Try: breathing in for a count of five, holding the breath in for a count of two; and exhaling for seven.
First Thing is a weekly series on HuffPost UK Life giving you tips and advice on how to enjoy your mornings. Whether you’re an early bird or night owl, starting your day off right will make for a happier and healthier day. We’ll be sharing exercise advice, nutrition guidance, as well as ideas on forming new habits. (And no, the answer to a productive morning isn’t just setting an alarm for 5am!)