2021 has been quite a ride. We don't have to give you a recap of all the tumultuous, upsetting, and anxiety-inducing events that have occurred up until this point, but we can tell you that you're not alone in how you feel. If you find yourself overcome with stress or anxiety from the state of the world, or something personal, there are ways you can try to manage your anxiety. And one of them is through breathwork.
"It's such a great tool to become less focused on what may be going on in your mind or what's happening externally that may be causing you anxiety," Jasmine Marie, a breathwork practitioner and founder of Black Girls Breathing, a safe space for Black women to nurture their mental, emotional, and spiritual health through meditational breath work, tells Refinery29. Marie created the wellness platform due to the lack of diversity of breathwork facilitators, and aimed to make a space that was specifically for Black women and their experiences.
"We're living in a time that it is very normal to experience bouts of depression and anxiety and stress," Marie explains. "We don't try to rid ourselves of the emotions that are coming up, we try to focus on a tool that helps us process the emotions and help us not feel weighted by the emotions." The tool, in this case, is breathing.
Breathwork and breathing exercises are often hailed as an effective way to calm yourself and your anxious feelings down. A study published online in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice backs this up, too. Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine found that "breathing exercises can improve symptoms of depression and anxiety in both the short term... as well as cumulatively in the longer term."
You can use breathwork exercises whenever you need them — whether you're taking a quick break during the work day or trying to wind down at night — and however long you need them. "In an intensive session, you could be breathing for 35 minutes straight in a pattern, or you can be doing this for two minutes," she says. It's all about what you feel that your body needs in the moment.
Below, Marie walks us through three of her favourite breathwork practices she uses at Black Girls Breathing to help ease the mind, calm anxiety, and bring down stress levels.
Marie says one of my her favourite breathwork exercises is when your mouth is wide open and you're inhaling through the mouth, then exhaling with a sigh. "We audibly release a lot of times in our day," she says. "When something is frustrating you'll make a sigh. This is a natural bodily release, sighing, and [the exercise] is connecting to how our body naturally releases pent up energy."
You don't have to just sigh calmly and quietly, either. Marie often exhales with a scream. "I scream a lot to release any pent up energy," she says.
For those who are more right-brain thinkers, Marie recommends alternate nostril breathing — and it's exactly what it sounds like. Put pressure on your left nostril and inhale through the right, then exhale through the mouth. Then, put pressure on your right nostril, inhale through the left, and exhale through the mouth. Do this for as short or as long as you'd like!
Marie says this is a good exercise for those of us who have an overly active mind throughout the day. "It's a great way to use touch as well to give our minds something to focus on," she says.
The third exercise is similar to the first one in that you're breathing through your mouth, but there's a twist. "I frame this one to the sounds of the ocean," she says. You're inhaling through your mouth and exhaling out of your mouth, but it's all connected. There are no stops between each breath — which is why Marie likens it to the waves coming in and the waves coming out.
She also recommends keeping your mouth as wide open as possible while you complete this exercise. It may feel silly at first, but trust us — it'll help.