Conducting guided breathing exercises in the workplace can improve the health and productivity of staff, and when done properly and regularly, they will become a preventative measure to stress and tension emerging in the workplace.
Stress and tension, yes, we all know what they look and feel like – in anxiety the breath is shallow and rapid, in anger short and forceful, grief presents as arrhythmic and gasping, and depression as sighing. Conversely, and dare I say less known, deep, purposeful breathing creates feelings of relaxation, and with your parasympathetic nervous system engaging from this relaxation, anxiety, heart rate and blood pressure decrease, all resulting in immediate psychological benefits – your health, wellbeing and productivity improve.
I remember the first yoga practice I attended after a 3-year absence. Xanthe was my instructor for that returning class, a happy lady who assured me my body would remember the moves, and the break would soon be a distant memory. And when I say I remember the class, I want to be specific. I remember leaving that class feeling as if it was the first time in a very long time that I had taken proper, fair dinkum breaths.
Xanthe’s instruction to breathe into my lungs and to fill my belly that day was nothing short of extraordinary. My brain was buzzing from a sudden, yet gentle, surge of additional oxygen and I left feeling calm, alert and eager to return.
Xanthe’s instructions seemed simple enough. Breathe deeply, filling first your belly and then your chest, over and over with full awareness of what you are doing.
Give it a go right now. I’ll help.
Breathe gently in and out through your nose, deeply and fully a few times before reading any further for now.
Now this time, breathe into your belly first and then fill your chest. As you exhale, empty the air in your chest first and then your belly. Gently pulling your belly button towards your spine as you exhale fully, deeply and slowly.
This method is full yogic breath practice, or a Pranayama, one of many breath control techniques. I encourage you to repeat this practice for as long as you feel it is required – I guarantee it will settle your mind, restore energy levels, bridge a gap between your activities and release your mind before sleep at night.
While you are practising this, or any other Pranayama, be sure to observe every aspect of what you are doing. Become aware of how the air feels in your nostrils, the stretching sensation of your ribs, the outward pressure of your belly and the feeling of fullness or emptiness of air in your body.
You may even count the breath in – say for 4 – and then release the breath on the same count of 4. Matching the length of breath in and out is the trick here. The count could be extended to 10-15 once you become experienced and comfortable with the practice.
Moving the breath around the body, and in particular breathing into the belly encourages the use of the diaphragm, allowing the breath to become deeper and more fulfilling while allowing the shoulders and chest area to relax – areas where we often hold most of our worries, and where productivity and wellbeing start to wane.
Some describe this breathing technique as a breathing meditation. It is, however, a precursor to meditation, a preparation Pranayama which allows you to enter a meditative state, and is also a precursor to my favourite Pranayama – Nadi Shodhana.
What is perfect about Nadi Shodhana (Nar/de Showd/dar/nar) is its ability to either self-soothe or stimulate. It’s a balancing practice, and unlike many practices that rely on clearing your mind, Nadi Shodhana doesn’t require you to clear your mind or hold your thoughts, or any other instruction that often bores or challenges people into not conducting the practice.
Nadi Shodhana does, however, require the ability to count to four a couple of times with your hand traversing your face. And the great news is I have explained the instructions below, and you can listen to the audio recording which you’ll find easier to follow, and recommended – it’s far easier to learn the technique.
To do the following exercise for the first few times, I would suggest you find a safe comfortable space, somewhere you won’t be disturbed by phones, knocks on the door or inquisitive kids, remove any glasses and loosen any tight fitting apparel…now press play…
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama
Stage 1: Preparation
- Sit comfortably and tall, with a straight spine and broad shoulders.
- Relax your left palm comfortably into your lap, facing up for energy or downwards for a calming effect.
- With your right hand, gently place your pointer finger and middle finger between your eyebrows.
- Sit the thumb and ring finger gently to the side of each nostril.
- Close your eyes and take a deep, gentle breath in to fill first your belly and then your chest space.
- Release the breath out through your nose leaving your chest first, then your belly.
- Repeat five times.
Stage 2: Left and Right Nostrils
- Close your right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale through the left nostril slowly and steadily, exhaling on the same side.
- Repeat five times.
- Close your left nostril with your ring finger.
- Release your right nostril.
- Inhale through the right nostril slowly and steadily, then exhale on the same side.Repeat five times.
Stage 3: Alternate Nostrils
- Keeping the right nostril closed, breath in through the left, closing both nostrils at the top of the inhalation, retaining your breath for a gentle pause.
- Open your right nostril and release the breath slowly through the right side. Pause briefly at the bottom of the exhale.
- Inhale through the right side slowly.
- Hold both nostrils closed (with ring finger and thumb).
- Open your left nostril and release breath slowly through the left side. Pause briefly at the bottom.
- Repeat 5-10 cycles, allowing your mind to follow your inhales and exhales.
Stage 4: Reset
- With both nostrils open, gently breathe in to fill your belly and then your chest space.
- Release the breath out through your nose leaving your chest first, then belly.
- Repeat five times.
On returning now to normal breathing, you’ll be amazed at how fabulous you feel. Each round may take 30-40 seconds, with the entire practice taking a mere 5 minutes to complete. Try it just before a meeting or presentation, when the desire to sit and do nothing occurs, the bed bugs are biting at your brain or when you want to give something your full consideration.
To gain the most benefit, it is recommended that the full yogic breath followed by the Nadi Shodhana practice is performed. In saying that, however, if you are pressed for time or short on temper, conducting the Nadi Shodhana on its own will put you in a more resourceful place. It is something teams can do together, or better yet – engage Healthy Happy Staff to deliver a “Breathe to Relieve” session in your work place!
Breathing properly, just like workplace health & wellbeing needn’t be difficult, and if you like to see some other ways I encourage your staff to engage in their health & wellbeing, grab my guide today.
For some evidence-based reading on yoga and pranayama breathing, check out these papers from the Institute of Preventative Medicine