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5 Breathing Exercises You Can Do to Ease Anxiety

by Sophia Hyder Hock Jul 25, 2019

Feelings of anxiousness, fear, or nervousness are never fun parts of a trip, but stressful moments during travel happen to the best of us. While you may not be able to control the unraveling of a frustrating situation, you can use certain breathing techniques to ease tension and make thoughtful decisions in the midst of chaos.

After becoming a yoga instructor, I started to use breathwork to aid my anxiousness on trips. These techniques have helped me become a more mindful and happier traveler, and they may help you discover a renewed sense of focus, positivity, and hope during moments of uneasiness. The key to stress reduction through breathwork is to not overthink what you are doing; try to stay in the moment without judging yourself. All you need is the right intention and good posture. Here are five breathing exercises to help you ease travel anxiety.

Important note: These breathing exercises can be performed anywhere and at any time. However, if breathwork is audible, be mindful of the people around you. If you are pregnant, never constrict the flow of your breath. Always consult a doctor if you have medical concerns prior to trying these techniques.

1. Square breathing

This breathwork helps you reduce stress and improve your mood during heightened moments of anxiousness. The level of consciousness used to control the way you breathe sends a signal to your brain to adjust the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, which can slow your heart rate to help you feel calmer. I practice square breathing when there is a flight delay, lost luggage, or if I am waiting in long security or customs lines to gain perspective of my situation.

There are four parts to this breathing technique, hence the name square or box breathing — inhale for four counts, hold for four counts, exhale for four counts, and hold for four counts. Repeat this pattern of breathing five or more times. For people new to controlled breathing, use the square or box visual to aid you in concentration. More advanced controlled breathers can increase the number of counts per breath to six or eight while creating more awareness of the expansion of the chest on the inhalation and release of breath from the lungs on the exhalation.

2. Ujjayi breathing

Ujjayi breathing comes in handy when you need to release tension from areas that feel strained and tight. This diaphragmatic breathing technique engages your diaphragm with every inhalation and exhalation; this helps to lengthen your breath and increase the amount of oxygen that enters your body. As a result, your blood pressure regulates, headaches and sinus pressure diminish, and your digestive system strengthens. I use ujjayi breathing during long flights and when my stomach is queasy.

Your throat is the focal point of this breathwork. Begin by closing your lips, inhaling through your nose and then exhaling audibly from the back of your throat. After a few breath cycles, you may notice a natural flow of breathing that originates from the diaphragm and easily glides through the throat. If you are in a place to do so, close your eyes to pay attention to the pace of your breathing. Notice the calming sensation that this breathwork can bring to your entire being. The sound of your inhales and exhales will sound victorious, like the ocean, or Darth Vader’s breath — whichever visual you prefer to use.

3. Aum/Om breathing

Aum breathing, or more commonly recognized as “Om,” is made up of three different sounds — “A-U-M” — that focus on different parts of the body as seen below. When the reverberations of all three sounds come together, the entire body becomes relaxed and blood pressure decreases.

The “aaa” sound calms the body from the waist to feet. The “uuu” sound (pronounced like the sound of the o’s in “root”) calms the body from the neck to waist. The “mmm” sound calms the head.

This sound of Aum is also said to help with concentration and mindful decision making. I use this technique when I feel agitated, tired, or need perspective during my trip. After a few rounds of this breathwork, my feelings of irritation dissipate and I am able to make more informed decisions.

Begin by taking one cleansing breath in and out. Inhale and say, “aaa,” focusing on the lower half of your body from the waist down, and exhale completely. For your next breath, say, “uuu,” focusing on the midsection of your body from the neck to waist, and exhale completely. Lastly, say, “mmm,” pressing your lips and exhaling out of your nose. Focus on your head with this final breath.

After you feel comfortable with this breathwork, put all three sounds together using one breath. Repeat this breathwork at least five times or until you feel calm and mindful of your situation and surroundings.

4. Alternate nostril breathing

This breathwork purifies the masculine and feminine channels of the body (think yin and yang). In addition to calming the mind and releasing negative energy, alternate nostril breathing is useful when you have jet lag or sleep deprivation. Personally, the fluid motion of this breathwork puts me at ease when I get upset or feel like I need to prepare for a busy travel day ahead.

Bring your ring, middle, and index fingers toward your palm. Place your thumb on the right side of your nostril, breathe in on the left side of your nostril, and close the left side of your nostril with your pinky finger and hold your breath for four counts. Release your thumb and breathe out for four counts. Keeping your thumb released, inhale through your right nostril. Close your right nostril with your thumb, hold your breath for four counts, open your pinky finger, and release your breath for four counts. Inhale from the left nostril, close the left nostril, holding your breath for four counts, and release the right nostril. Inhale on the right side of your nostril, close the right nostril for four counts, and release your breath through your left nostril. Practice this technique as many times as you need to feel the calming effects consume your state of mind.

5. Three-part breathing

Three-part breathing drastically reduces stress and anxiety by regulating your breath, providing space to ground and connect with yourself. The repeated cycles of breath also help you to recharge your energy and confidence levels. I use this breathwork before immersive cultural experiences, traveling solo, and when I feel depleted from a long day of activity.

Take one refresher breath by inhaling through your nose, and exhale through your mouth. Place one hand on your belly and the other hand on your chest to feel the connection with your breath and body. Inhale a third of your breath by letting your belly expand, inhale a third of your breath by allowing your chest to expand, and inhale the final part of your breath through your throat. Hold for four counts, and exhale out using your normal breath. Repeat this cycle four or five times. It may be challenging to sync your breath with the movement of your belly, chest, and throat at first; try not to get frustrated if it doesn’t feel right the first time.

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