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Using Breath to Address Anxiety

embody Aug 31, 2022

Discover and try breathing techniques that I use when addressing anxiety, and perhaps add them to your anxiety toolbox too.


There were comments after my first travel blog about caring about my anxiety overwhelm, which has inspired me to continue this exploration into my experiences with anxiety and address it head-on so I can be fully present and enjoy the experiences travel and life brings.


Sensations when anxious

I was very exhausted from recognising and experiencing anxiety during the initial days of traveling alone. So, by day 3, I decided it was something to address if I am going to enjoy this gift of time to travel. I know when I am anxious when I notice my breath is shallow, held around my collar bones. I feel dizziness and nausea more easily. 


To initially cope with this, I usually slow the pace of my breath and invite in a fuller breath to my belly to relax me (or at least a Pilates breath into the low back of my lungs). This helps me focus on the issue at hand, but doesn't fully address the sensations and residue it leaves me from the situation. This means that I tend to carry the anxiety with me. Looking at breathing techniques taught I decided to draw on two similar techniques that can help reduce residual anxiety in the body.


Pilates breathing

I enjoy Pilates breathing technique for the full use of the lungs, into the back and side of the ribs, utilising the lower portion of the lungs where the gaseous exchange is at its most efficient.


Joseph Pilates says "You must squeeze every atom of impure air from the lungs until they are almost as free as a vacuum." Yet often this philosophy of the exhale is not emphasised in classes comparatively as much as the inhale.  The Pilates general rule is to inhale in spinal extension and exhale on spinal flexion. The full exhale creates full engagement of the transverse abdominis and obliques on the ribs, pulling them together.

I've always found the flexion movement of Pilates challenging due to my ‘banana back’, therefore, the 'C' shape of the spine is very challenging for me. Over the years I worked hard to improve my ability to find this shape using a stronger exhale when coming to the lower abdominal (lumbar spine) flexion, which teachers have noted my exhale stops short of its true end.


In the early days after my accident, I discovered that holding the deepest ‘C’ shape and doing Pilates breathing transformed the clarity in my head. I used isometric contraction of a deep C curve for 2-5 minutes, with full back and side ribcage breathing, and then a very deep abdominal exhale to reduce the delta waves (sleep) in my brain and allow the alpha waves (waking state) to deal with the day to day.


However, this position isn't always possible to hold or 'meditate' when in anxiety-inducing situations, so some of this practice has fallen aside.


Yoga breathing (Pranayama)

Yoga teaches that the exhale is the excretion of waste in the body in an upward direction out of the body and clears the mind. It is vital for a healthy body and mind to fully exhale in order to make space for clean air into the body, bringing new energy into the physical and energetic self.


You can learn how healthy someone is based on the quality of their breath, including comparing the inhale and exhale. The ratio of inhale to exhale is important in determining how to work with the breath to work with healthy options.


Since I began practicing yoga, I have always suffered a great deal of dizziness in flow classes. I recall speaking with my first yoga teacher about this and he advised that I take longer on my exhales and not follow the pace of the rest of the class.


I decided to come back to this advice and found the visamavritti pranayama that suggests a 1:2 ratio of breath. I decided to practice this technique as part of my travels to see if it reduced my anxiety – inhaling for 4 counts & exhaling for 8 counts. I spent 10-15 minutes doing this in the morning when I woke up whilst traveling, and added it during my yoga classes.


I found that the longer exhale activated the transverse abdominis and deep lower abdominal lift I use in my Pilates ‘C’ curve to a less degree, but created a kind of lock sensation around the naval of the upper and lower abdominals connecting. In yoga, this is the upward lift of the belly where the mula bandha and uddiyana bandha connect towards each other. This connection is considered to raise the rubbish to the digestive fire, removing unnecessary waste from the body - like anxiety.



Try both of these breaths to see which you like the most, and perhaps they will help you too in moments when you are facing anxiety.


The Pilates breath is 2-5 minutes so less time-consuming, and will give you some great abs!

  • In a seated position, roll off your sit bones, relax your shoulders and try to bring your ribs & hip bones as close together as possible without rounding your shoulders or head.
  • Scoop the belly out like you are an ice cream scoop wanting to be filled with ice cream!
  • You can lift your feet off the ground to intensify this & play with the edge of falling to focus the mind further.
  • Stay in position and only breathe into the ribs, keeping the abs squeezing tight.


Contraindications - not for pregnant or post-natal women or those with low back issues.


The Yoga breath is 10-15 minutes.

  1. Set a timer and then sit tall. Don't worry about your inhale specifically, just count to 4.
  2. Exhale out through the nose and soften the shoulders & ribs for 8 counts. On the last 2-3 counts lift the low belly in + back towards the spine to fully exhale the breath in 8 counts.
  3. Do not move the spine as you do the breath, stay tall.
  4. Repeat until the timer sounds.


Discover how breathwork can transform your life with my Clarity Breathwork course. Through our sessions together, you will find an emotional release that will allow you to breathe more into your heart, find release and revitalise your wellbeing. 






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