Breathing for Anxiety or Stress

Breathing for Anxiety or Stress

Oct 26, 2020
  • Sit comfortably with your back straight to allow your lungs to expand fully and without restriction. Have a paper, bamboo or metal straw close to hand for the practice, or if you are not using a straw you can instead purse your lips to restrict the speed that the air leaves the lungs.

  • Bring your awareness to your natural breath, use a clock or stopwatch to time yourself and count how many times you breathe in a minute. Make a mental note of the number.

  • Now inhale deeply through your nostrils and then exhale very slowly through the straw. Make sure you exhale fully, but be gentle; do not force the breath out or rush. Inhale through your nostrils again, then exhale through the straw; continue with this practice for about 5 minutes.

  • Try to breath down into your abdomen, feel the expanding, rising movement of your abdomen as you inhale and the abdomen lower as you exhale.

  • Try to pause slightly after the exhalation to allow the inhalation to start naturally, do not force it or strain, just wait for the  feeling of the inhalation to come spontaneously.

  •  If you start to feel uncomfortable or anxious, release the practice and breathe normally for a few breaths and then, when you feel ready, start the practice again. This can happen as the body and mind are not accustomed to this type of breathing, you may think that by lengthening the exhalation you will not get enough air, this is not the case and it is a practice well worth your perseverance.

  • You may start to become aware of the natural pause between the breath, allow your mind to become still in this pause, feel the sensation of calm and profound stillness in these pauses.

  •  After you have finished the practice, repeat the timing of your breaths for a minute. Make some observations: How  much has your breathing slowed down? Are you feeling calmer? What is your experience following this practice?


Straw breathing can help you to regain a feeling of calm and slow and regulate your heart rate, this can be a very useful tool for anxiety attacks. When you are stressed, angry or panicked, you tend to take short, shallow breaths, which can cause a lack of oxygen that restricts blood flow,  leads the muscles to tense and can lead to light headedness or fainting. This practice not only slows your heart rate, it also lowers blood pressure. The destructive effects of chronic stress put people at greater risk of chronic disease. 

The development of deep, slow breathing through regular Pranayama practice also has the effect of stimulating the Parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the restful state and this reduces the effects of the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for the “fight or flight” response to stress in the body. Short term stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, is normally harmless and can be extremely useful. However, chronic or long term exposure to the chemicals produced by the sympathetic nervous system is often associated with conditions such as hypertension, headaches and migraines, suppression the immune system, impaired digestion, and weakened endocrine function.

Our modern, hectic pace of life can keep us in a state of heightened stress for extensive periods of time without reprieve; a regular Pranayama practice can help your body to regain its natural balance and reduce our biological reaction to the stress we encounter in our lives.

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