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Celebrating a New Year: 3 Breathing Exercises for Starting Anew

- Shannon Nichols

It’s that time of the season where we begin to reflect on the joys and challenges that 2021 brought us. We are met with the choices of what to take with us into the new year, what to leave behind, and who we would like to grow into. With the annual promise of starting over, we are given an opportunity to reinvent ourselves. Breathing practices, practices that allow us to relax in our bodies and calm our minds, are powerful tools that keep us grounded in the here and now and help us arrive anew in each moment. Check out the following types of breathing practices to help you flow into each new moment of 2022!

Breathing Exercises

The simple practice of breathing, inhaling, and exhaling, symbolizes the cyclical nature of life. The exhale represents the old, a release, a letting go, while the inhale represents new beginnings, a returning to the now. Becoming aware of the breath and engaging in breathing exercises relaxes the nervous system. These practices shift us out of our sympathetic nervous systems (fight or flight) and into our parasympathetic nervous systems (rest and digest). Breathing practices reduce stress and anxiety, boost overall immune function, slow the heart rate, and lower blood pressure. The following breathing exercises are simple ways to begin or end your day, as they function as preventative health care if regularly practiced over time.

  1.             Box Breathing: Inhale for 4 counts; Hold the breath for 4 counts; Exhale for 4 counts; Hold the breath for 4 counts; Repeat
  2.             Signal Breathing: This is an excellent practice to immediately lower heart rate and reduce anxiety. Signal breathing is the practice of inhaling very slowly through the nose and exhaling (as slowly as possibly) through the mouth, as if you’re blowing out a birthday candle. I like to breathe out for 2 counts longer than I breathe in with this exercise (e.g., 5 counts inhaling, holding the breath for a count or two, 7 counts exhaling)
  3.             4-7-8 Breathing: Inhale for 4 counts; Hold the breath for 7 counts; Exhale for 8 counts; Repeat

A good rule of thumb is to practice these exercises in sets of 4. Pay attention to what is happening in your mind (thoughts), your emotions, and in your body (bodily sensations) before and after each exercise. Noticing these differences in mind and body will create the motivation to continue the practice. Wishing everyone a Happy New Year filled with many new beginnings! And remember: Breathe! J 

“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.”

-Thich Nhat Hanh

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