How to Boost—Or Chill—Your Energy With Your Breath
Outside of a yoga class, where instructors guide me through pretty much every inhale and exhale, there aren’t many times when I’m confronted with the thought of breathing.
It’s automatic and usually just hangs out in the background, like everyday honking in NYC traffic.
But lately, I’ve been paying more attention to my breath, specifically how it connects to my energy.
What I’ve found: In moments when I most need to harness the power of my breath—like when I’m feeling frazzled or sluggish—I actually tend to hold my breath instead of using it as a helpful tool.
When we’re feeling out of sorts, taking slow, deep breaths can help us relax and find our focus. How: Deep breaths slow down our respiratory rate and balance the “speed up” and “slow down” mechanisms within our nervous systems. This equilibrium is what allows us to find calm. At the same time, these breaths affect the levels of noradrenaline, a natural chemical messenger, in our body. When produced at the right levels, it influences our brain chemistry in ways that enhance our attention.
So how do you use your breath to flip your energy on command? It’s all about breathing, but not in our usual way.
Our day-to-day breaths are pretty shallow—commonly referred to as “chest breathing”. Studies show that 50% of adults are predominantly chest breathers. What that means: We end up not getting as much oxygen as we could.
What you need are slow, deep breaths that activate your belly.
When you take a deep, belly breath, your stomach expands outward, the lower ribs expand sideways, causing your diaphragm to contract. This helps to fill every part of your lungs with oxygen. It’s this volume of oxygen that helps change how you feel. It ramps up blood flow and increases oxygenation leading to more energy. On the calming side, it stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system slowing your heart rate and controlling the release of stress hormones.
The next time you need to turn down or turn up your energy, try a breathing exercise to help you out. Here are a few to start with:
If You Want to Get Calm...
This technique is great to do just before bed or any time you’re in need of a moment of calm. Come to a comfortable seated position, close your eyes, and do the following:
●︎ Place the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth, just behind your front teeth. Hold this position for the duration of the exercise.
●︎ Breathe in quietly through the nose for 4 seconds.
●︎ Hold the breath for 7 seconds.
●︎ Exhale forcefully through the mouth, pursing the lips and making a “whoosh” sound, for 8 seconds.
Start with four cycles to feel the effects, though it’s noted you should do no more than 8 reps in one sitting.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Studies show alternate nostril breathing helps balance the brain and nervous system. How: It shakes up our breathing cycle by commandeering our “dominate nostril.” You read that correctly—one nostril is typically dominant for 88 minutes before it switches to the other.
When you do this technique, you trick the brain into creating an even flow through both nostrils. The result: A balance that leaves you feeling calm, centered, and focused. Here’s how to do it:
●︎ Hold your right thumb over your right nostril and inhale deeply through your left nostril.
●︎ At the peak of your inhalation, close off your left nostril with the third and fourth fingers on your right hand, then exhale smoothly through your right nostril.
●︎ After a full exhalation, inhale through the right nostril, closing it off with your right thumb at the peak of your inhalation.
Repeat for as many breaths as you’d like, or until you feel calm. It may feel awkward at first, but keep it up. It’s incredibly soothing.
Five Finger Breathing
The Five Finger mindful breathing exercise is one you can use anytime.
●︎ First, bring your hands in front of you.
●︎ Then place the index finger of your right hand on the outside of the pinky finger on your left hand.
●︎ As you breathe in, trace from the bottom of your pinky finger to the tip of your pinky finger.
●︎ And as you breathe out, trace down the inside of it.
●︎ Repeat that with all of your fingers before you start to reverse it and go the other way back to your pinky.
●︎ Don't foget to notice how many senses you're using right now: You're paying attention to your breath and lungs. And you’re feeling this sense of touch with your hands as they work together.
When we have a lot going on in our minds it's best to bring it back to this.
If You Want to Up Your Energy...
This rapid breathing technique activates the breath in short bursts. It’s these active movements that excite the sympathetic nervous system and make you more alert. To practice double breathing:
●︎ Inhale through the nose with a short, sharp inhalation followed directly by a long, strong inhale.
●︎ Then without pausing, exhale through the nose and mouth with a short, then long exhale.
●︎ Repeat 5 times then pause for a short break before beginning your next round.
Get ready to feel super amped!
Bhastrika, or bellows breath, is perfect first thing in the morning, during your afternoon slump, or to get you psyched for a workout. Settle into a comfortable seated position, then do the following:
●︎ Breathe in and out through your nose.
●︎ Engage your stomach, pulling it in on an inhale and pushing it out on an exhale.
●︎ Keeping this up, start forcefully exhaling through your nose, followed by forced, deep inhales
●︎ Continue this at the rate of 1 second per cycle.
Start with reps of 10 followed by short 15-30 second breaks of normal breathing.
A daily 5-minute breathing practice can get you more familiar with these techniques for energy while also giving you major health benefits like better sleep and lower blood pressure.
In your lifetime, you’ll take about half a billion breaths. Use them to your advantage.
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