Breathing Practices That Improved My Mental Health

I went into my last quarter at UC Davis thinking it’d be a breeze, but the reality is that this quarter hasn’t been all fun and games. It’s actually been one of the most stressful quarters and has caused me a lot of anxiety and negative emotions.

In order to learn how to manage some of this stress, I started taking a meditation and breathing course with Shihan Nishiuchi at ASUCD’s Xperimental College. Shihan has studied at various Japanese breathing schools and attended meditation retreats all his life and has been eager to offer his students advice and help in the art of meditation.

He often stresses the importance of breathing: it’s the most important thing humans need for survival, yet it’s never practiced. It’s rarely spoken of as an essential tool for maintaining positivity and dealing with stress, anxiety, or depression.

Shihan has given my class plenty of breathing tips and mantras that have effectively helped me feel calmer, forget my stresses, and feel more positive by the end of the session. And while I should be implementing his breathing tips more often throughout the day to achieve a fuller transformation, even just one hour a week has already helped me feel more in control of mental health and my mood.

If you only have ten minutes to carve out today, try some of these breathing techniques and gauge your mood at the beginning of the day and at the end.

1. Breath to fill up your stomach

You know those statues of Buddhist men with large, round bellies? Those bellies are full of air, and they got that way from deep and strong breathing. Shihan recommends breathing for seven seconds and trying to push out our stomachs as much as possible, filling our entire core with air.

At the release of the breath, try to imagine your organs pushing back inward to your body. Trust me, by the end of thirty seconds of this kind of breathing, you’ll feel your fingers tingle with energy.

Image source: Pexels

2. Think about breathing in light

Imagination is an important aspect of breathing, and something I like to do while doing slow and deep breathing is to imagine that with each breath, I am filling my body with golden light.

Start from the top of your head, breathe in, breathe out, and imagine that with each breath, you are filling up your inner headspace with light. Go through that until you reach the soles of your feet. The light technique has helped me feel like my body is radiating positivity and clears away any negative or dark thoughts.

3. Imagine to collect energy

For this move, stand up and stick your arms straight up. Then use your arms to collect imaginary energy from the space above your head. While swaying your arms in the air, inhale and count a few seconds. Then in a sudden motion, exhale and drop your arms down, as if you are painting the length of your body with the energy you just collected.

When Shihan first introduced this move to us, I felt kind of silly. But I’ve found that the sillier the move, the more effective it is. It’s all about leaving inhibitions and judgments behind and opening your mind and heart to something imaginative.

Try one or more of these techniques in the morning or before bed and measure if your own mood and levels of negativity and positivity. Breathing exercises aren’t the end-all to stress and anxiety nor are they immediate cures, but they are techniques that, I think, are worth the shot.

For more information about breathing for your mental health, check out ASUCD’s Xperimental College Classes, or head over to some websites like the Calm Clinic, Very Well Mind, and The Maven Circle.