Circle Breathing Can Relieve Stress, Calm Anxiety


The state of our mind is unconsciously linked to our breath. When the mind is calm, the breath slows down. As our thoughts become excited or agitated, breathing speeds up.

This also means that by consciously controlling the breath, we influence our mental state. To do this we can use breathing techniques created by the ancient yogis called pranayama.

Practicing pranayama energizes the body and calms the mind. These exercises can help us disengage from habitual stress reactions to life’s events and respond with increased tranquility and clarity of thought.

The pranayama breathing process has three stages. The inhalation, or puraka, stimulates the body. Retaining or holding the breath, called kumbhaka, raises the body’s temperature and allows it to absorb oxygen. An exhalation, or rechak, cools the body down. However, a basic pranayama technique called Circle Breathing is a series of inhalations and exhalations without breath retention.

Calming Body and Mind: Circle Breathing

Circle Breathing is a valuable symptom management tool for stress or anxiety. The short version takes only about one minute and can be done almost anywhere, anytime.

To be used as needed:

  1. Breathe in and out seven times without pausing between inhalations and exhalations.
  2. You can breathe more deeply and slowly than usual, or allow your breaths to be of normal length.
  3. Keep your awareness focused on the breaths.
  4. You are likely to notice a clearing of the mind, and may feel more centered or grounded.

The longer version of Circle Breathing takes 20 minutes:

  1. Get comfortable, relax your body, and close your eyes.
  2. Breathing through your nose, inhale for seven seconds and then exhale for seven seconds. Breathe into your belly on the inhale. Do not pause between in and out breaths; inhalations and exhalations should form a continuous circle. Do this for ten minutes.
  3. Speed up your rate of breath for the next eight minutes—two seconds per in breath, and two seconds per out breath. Again, do not pause between inhalations and exhalations.
  4. For another two minutes, go back to slower—but still continuous—in and out breaths.

If you are new to controlled breathing, you may want to slowly work up to the long version’s 20 minutes. Consider starting with three to five minutes of seven-second in and out breaths, followed by one to three minutes of faster breathing, and end with one to two minutes of slower breaths.

Sources: Body Breath Voice; Dale, Cindi; The Subtle Body Practice Manual, Sounds True, 2013.


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