In our fast-paced world, we are often pressing on the gas pedal without pumping the breaks, leaning toward an overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. Spending just a few minutes consciously breathing can help trigger the parasympathetic nervous system and reset us to a more balanced state. In lieu of being overcome—or worse, motivated by—anxiety, distractedness, or stress, we can respond to our lives from a place of mental clarity.
Has anyone ever advised you to take a deep breath to help calm the nerves during a time of stress or anxiety? If you did take that deep breath, did you notice how you may have calmed down as a result?
Scientific studies on the practice of pranayama, the yogic term for "breathwork," are continuing to emerge, uncovering a wide array of benefits, including increased pulmonary function, better sleep quality, and reduced depression, along with many others. How can something as simple as breathing boast such a variety of positive effects? The answer lies within the way breathwork affects our nervous system.
Conscious pranayama breathing patterns help us to balance the two branches of our autonomic nervous system. The sympathetic branch of the nervous system moves us forward, toward activity and acceleration. The parasympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, helps us to find a state of restfulness, digestion, and ease.
To further increase the benefits of this miracle drug, why not invite a like-minded friend to practice with you?
Inviting a partner to join you in this work makes it not only more fun but more interesting. The partnership allows for an openness of expression and the loving support of a friend.
Try these simple yet effective breathwork exercises with a partner to continue to reap and double the benefits of pranayama:
Partner child's pose breathwork
- While friend A rests in child’s pose, friend B will place his or her hands gently onto friend A’s rib cage in 3 different positions (first rib cage then follow-up with shoulder blades and lower back) for one inhale/exhale cycle, repeating anywhere from 1 to 5 times. For the rib cage, aim for mid-back, and for the low back, either side of the spine is fine.
- Breathe normally for a few cycles of breath without touching each other before switching partners, remaining conscious of how you can breathe expansively into your partner’s palms.
- Sit side-by-side or face-to-face and breathe together for sama vritti—inhale regularly, then exhale for a count of 3.
- Continue to breathe evenly on the inhale and the exhale, picking a length and pace that works for both of you.
- Once you are in a rhythm, close your eyes, or choose a similar gazing point.
- Repeat for as long as you feel comfortable.
- Finish a count of 3 on an inhale, and breathe normally on the exhale.
- Sit back-to-back for viloma, or 3-part breath. Inhale regularly, and exhale completely before you begin—inhale partly into the belly and pause, then partly into the rib cage and pause, then partly into the chest and pause.
- Breathe out calmly through the nose to empty the breath.
- Repeat the 3-part inhalation through the nose for 1 to 5 minutes.
- Finish the 3-part inhale before breathing normally out through the nose.
Looking for some companionship in your next yoga class? Here's why you should bring a friend, according to science.