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This breathing exercise reduces stress and increases well-being

Breathing Exercise: you've probably already heard this advice when you're feeling anxious (at the doctor's, just before a blood test), frustrated (when a car cuts you off), relaxed (during a meditation session) or angry (breathe deeply before saying something you might later regret). In yoga, the breath is seen as a reflection of our mental and physical well-being. And this is where pranayama comes in. If you practise yoga regularly, you should already be familiar with this term. In Sanskrit, prana means ‘breath’ or ‘vital energy’ and yama means ‘duration’ or ‘extension’. Pranayama can therefore be understood as the control of the breath or the orientation of energy. Our breathing and our vital energy determine our level of fatigue or energy. Targeted breathing exercises can help us to control them and have a direct influence on our well-being.

I first felt all the effects of pranayama on my body when I taught my very first yoga class and showed the students how to practise alternate breathing. I had the opportunity to teach yoga to a group of about 15 colleagues. I was very enthusiastic. I had first planned an alternate breathing exercise at the beginning of the class, so that the participants would no longer feel like they were working and everyone could concentrate fully on the practice. In retrospect, this breathing exercise was especially necessary for me. After a few breaths, my heart rate calmed down, I was less agitated and ready to start my yoga flow.


The benefits of alternate Breathing Exercise


In yoga, alternate breathing is said to have a calming and harmonising effect, and if my own experience is anything to go by, I couldn't agree more. In a nutshell, you breathe in through one nostril and out through the other, balancing left and right. According to yoga philosophy, Breathing Exercise, this helps to purify the energy channels. Science has also studied alternate breathing and demonstrated the following effects:


1 - Reduced stress levels

A study conducted in 2018 revealed that the stress levels of male subjects practising alternate breathing for 30 minutes a day were lower after 3 months. In comparison, there was no improvement in the men in the other group who did not practise alternate breathing. 30 minutes is a long time for most people. The participants were also supervised by a yoga teacher. You don't need to practise alternate breathing for half an hour to feel the benefits: even 5 minutes is enough to start with.

2 - Improving cardiorespiratory endurance

Cardiorespiratory endurance is the ability to maintain physical activity over a long period, such as running or cleaning your entire flat. Swimming enthusiasts in particular have a high level of cardiorespiratory endurance. As a result, they can hold their breath for a long time and breathe deeply in a short space of time. A small study published in 2017 examined the effect of pranayama on the lung function of professional swimmers. As part of the study, these athletes practised alternate breathing for 30 minutes a day and two other breathing exercises five days a week for over a month. The researchers were able to observe a positive effect on the athletes' respiratory endurance. Improved respiratory endurance can also lead to better performance. Larger-scale studies are needed to investigate these results further.

3 - Improved well-being

A study in the Journal of the Indian Medical Association looked at the effects of pranayama and yoga practice on the well-being and anxiety levels of medical students. They were divided into two groups. For six weeks, the first group practised pranayama and the second sun salutations. The results showed that practising slow breathing exercises (pranayama) for six weeks reduced anxiety and improved the general well-being of the group, as well as increasing the students' parasympathetic activity. The group who practised sun salutations, on the other hand, saw no effect on these same parameters, apart from an improvement in their general well-being.

Here is the alternating Breathing Exercise technique

Breathing Exercise: you can start by following a 4-4-4 pattern (inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, then exhale for 4 seconds). Then increase the rhythm to 4-4-8. Follow these guidelines:


  • Sit comfortably and keep your back straight.

  • Make a Vishnu Mudra with your right hand. This is a mudra, or hand gesture, in which you bend the index and middle fingers and hold the other fingers out. This forms a kind of nose clip. The thumb plugs the right nostril and the little and ring fingers plug the left nostril.

  • Block your right nostril with your thumb and breathe in through your left nostril for 4 seconds.

  • Block both nostrils and hold your breath for 4 seconds.

  • Unblock the right nostril and breathe out for 4 seconds.

  • Inhale deeply through the right nostril for 4 seconds.

  • Block both nostrils and hold your breath for 4 seconds.

  • Unblock your left nostril and breathe out for 4 seconds.

  • You have now completed one complete cycle.

  • Breathe in again through the left nostril and continue in the same way.

  • To begin with, perform 5 cycles of alternating breathing.

  • Always finish by breathing out on your left side.


Tip: You can practise alternate breathing as part of your yoga practice or not. If you have a blocked nose, you can also do the exercise mentally. Alternate breathing is safe for most people. If you suffer from asthma or lung or heart disease, seek medical advice first.

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