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March 4, 2016

Changing the way you breathe is the fastest way to change how you feel. When you’re anxious about an upcoming presentation at work, stressed from rush-hour traffic, or feeling edgy from a poor night’s sleep, regulating your breath will calm you down quickly.

Stress jump-starts the body’s fight or flight response, which tenses muscles and keeps our mind narrowly focused on whatever is causing the stress. Since it is unlikely we will completely rid our lives of stress, the best practice is to develop a healthy relationship with it. We are conditioned to believe that stress is terrible and something we need to avoid or fight. Rather than resist what is happening in the moment, you can use your breath to restore balance to the nervous system.

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When you feel grounded, it’s much easier to take a step back in challenging situations and gain clarity and perspective.

Breathing is something that is easy to take for granted because it’s automatic. It’s also easy to write off a breathwork practice and think, "That's too simple — it won't work for me." In reality, adopting a breathwork practice will help you cultivate a healthy relationship with stress and give you more energy in your life.

Breathwork is active meditation. Breathing is the most powerful healing technology; you can practice it anywhere. The next time you feel anxious or stressed out, try this effective 60-second breathing exercise to gain control of your emotions and calm yourself down.

My go-to 60-second breathwork exercise:

First, take a comfortable seat or lie down.

Make sure that your spine is straight.

Gently close your eyes.

Take a long, deep breath through your nose. Exhale out of your nose two to three counts longer than your inhalation. Repeat in this manner for 60 seconds. Notice how peaceful and calm you feel after the practice.

Lengthening your exhales is the fastest way to calm the mind, soothe the nervous system, and balance emotions. You can use this practice in any situation in which you want to regulate your emotions and think clearly. The slower you breathe the quieter the mind will become. Breathwork is conscious breathing, so awareness of your breath is integral to the practice.

If you enjoy the breathwork exercise, build up to three minutes each day. Take it slow in the beginning and become comfortable practicing at your own pace.

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Ashley Neese
Ashley Neese

Ashley Neese is a Los Angeles-based breathwork teacher and the author of How to Breathe: 25 Simple Practices for Calm, Joy, and Resilience. She has studied with some of the world’s leading masters in yoga, meditation, medical intuition and somatic therapy, and also has a bachelor's and master's in printmaking from the Atlanta College of Art and California College of the Arts, respectively. She is also a 200-hour registered yoga teacher (E-RYT). Neese draws from her diver background to guide people back into their bodies, where they learn how to cultivate resilience and develop relational intelligence beyond the cognitive mind. She is in currently practices in Los Angeles and the Bay Area.