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How to help calm an anxious mind with abdominal breathing

I’m sure most of us can identify with feeling anxious from time to time. In the last couple of years we’ve all had some pretty extreme stresses placed upon us wether we fully realise it or not. Not seeing family, working from home or having to go to work, worrying about our own health or taking the virus home to loved ones, the isolation periods, the complete change in our lives, the lack of access to other services. So many things have affected us over the last couple of years that we have had very little control over.

Life has also continued to happen regardless, the passing of time, losing loved ones, periods of uncertainty or change. Whatever is contributing to your feelings of anxiety yoga can help.

Yoga provides tools that you can take off your mat and into life and the more you practice yoga the more accessible these tools become in everyday life.

Breathing into your abdomen (belly breathing) and consciously slowing the breathe to a 4 count inhale and a 6 count exhale can really help to calm an anxious mind, it’s simple and it works. Elongating the exhale helps to move us out of our fight or flight response (our sympathetic nervous system) and into our relaxation response (our para sympathetic nervous system). Belly breathing has numerous benefits including:

It can reduce and relieve muscular tension

It can relieve tension

Can lower feelings of stress and anxiety which can then in turn help improve conditions like IBS

Can help to boost lung capacity

Can help to improve diaphragm function

A simple way to practice belly breathing is to sit or lie in a comfortable position and place one hand on your heart area and one hand on your abdomen. You may wish to close your eyes or gaze softly off the tip of the nose, trying to keep your focus inward and present. Notice how much or how little your hands are moved by the action of your current breathing. Then begin to inhale down into your abdomen and notice the movement of your hands, you could start with an inhale for 4 and exhale for 4 count. Observing the rise and fall of the belly with your hand, you may feel drawn to move both hands to rest on the abdomen and if so do this, and then move towards elongating the exhale, perhaps to a count of 6.

Try not to force the elongation of the exhale, creating tension, stress or anxiety - the exact thing we we trying to move away from - allow your breath to be a circle, the inhale moves seamlessly into the exhale and vice versa. Use the breath count that works for you, perhaps shorter, perhaps longer, perhaps time and practice you can extend the exhale further. Another nice way to practice breathing into the belly is in savasana with both hands on the abdomen, tips of the index fingers gently touching, then notice as you inhale down into the belly how much space the breathe creates between the fingertips. The gentle rise and fall of the breathe creating space and releasing tension and anxiety in the body and mind.


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