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3 Breathing Exercises to Reduce Stress & Improve Sleep

The combination of stress + lack of sleep makes for one grumpy mama. And lucky for me, this deployment has given me the opportunity to improve my stress management skills (LOL - see what I did there - it's all about shifting perspective)!

But, let's get real here for second. No one likes tossing and turning at night and pulling their hair out because of stress and overwhelm by day. It's exhausting, and it's not healthy.

But, I've got some good news: When you can control your breath, you can control your mind. Feeling skeptical? Give one or all of these breathing exercises a try the next time you want to scream when you're at work, or when you just can't make the noise in your mind stop when you're laying in bed late at night. It can't hurt to try, right?

4-7-8 Breathing

This is one of my fave techniques. It always helps me relax when my mind is spinning. Exhale through your mouth, then close it. Inhale through your nose for a count of 4. At the top of the breath, hold for a count of 7, then exhale out your mouth for a count of 8. Do at least 3 cycles of breath. The reason why it works is because it forces you to slow down your breathing which results in slowing your heart rate and ultimately relaxing you.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

I learned this technique at a yoga meditation workshop. If you are someone who has trouble meditating, try this. The movement of the fingers and concentration of the breath, helps you focus, let go, and be in the moment. You'll want to be sitting up for this exercise. Place your right thumb over your right nostril and breathe in through the left nostril. Then take your right ring finger placing it on your left nostril, releasing your thumb and exhaling out the right nostril. Leaving the ring finger on the left nostril breathe in the right nostril. Close off the right nostril with your thumb, and release your ring finger, breathing out the left nostril. Repeat.

When first practicing it, our teacher timed us for a minute, then we tried again for 3 minutes, 5 minutes, and ultimately 10 minutes. It's amazing how quickly the time flies by and it doesn't seem like it's possible that 10 minutes have passed!

3 Part Breathing

This breath practice can be practiced in any position where your spine is straight - either seated or laying down. Close your eyes, relax and breathe naturally through your nose. Place your left hand on your heart and your right hand on your abdomen. Now, begin to notice the breath. Inhale and feel your belly lift, your ribs expand, and your heart rise. As you exhale your chest drops, ribs contract, and belly lowers toward your spine. Bring your awareness to this 3 part movement - belly, ribs, chest on the inhale and chest, ribs, belly on the exhale. Continue breathing at your own pace. You may find it helpful and relaxing to count your breath. Breathe in for a count of 4 or 5 and letting the out breathe match that same count. As you become more comfortable with this practice, you can breathe in for a count of 4 or 5, and then try to double the count on the breathe out to a count of 8 or 10. Continue for a few minutes or as long as feels comfortable.

I challenge you to try this the next time you're feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or find yourself begging to find the off switch on all those thoughts that are swirling around in that mind of yours!

"Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment!" -Thich Nhat Hanh

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