By: Rachel Lippincott and Beth Waage
Each year, yoga becomes more and more mainstream in American culture. The Asana practice of yoga continues to become accessible from studios to gyms and even workplaces. Yoga, in Western culture, though often emphasized as a more feminine form of exercise, has numerous benefits for both genders both on and off the mat. Anxiety has become the number one mental health issue in America (Adaa.org, 2018), and while women are more likely to step on their mat to ease the symptoms, the benefits to men are equally important and warrant further exploration. Asana, one of the eight limbs of yoga, can be beneficial itself for anxiety, but for men pranayama, or breathwork, can be a way to enjoy the practice of anxiety relieving yoga without the perhaps anxiety inducing pressure of tight shorts.
Symptoms of anxiety in men can include muscle tension and difficulty concentrating (Guy Counseling, 2018). In their guide to Yoga Therapy for Stress and Anxiety, authors Byron MA, Butera PHD, and Elgelid PHD PT find that, “Breath is the only associated physiological response of the nervous system that readily can be brought under conscious control.” (Butera, Byron and Elgelid, n.d.). While meditation may be the more well known yogic form of stress reduction, breath work in certain populations experiencing anxiety has been known to be more effective. A 2014 study at Stanford University concluded that breathing techniques reduced anxiety and the participants respiration rate, even assisting in the reduction of PTSD symptoms in the veterans studied (Brandt, Ford and Huber, 2018).
While tight shorts can be appealing, in discussions with men with anxiety, nature and the great outdoors often came up as a much more relaxing space. The great news is, there is no yoga mat or equipment required to take your pranayama practice with you. Outdoor activities are a great way to relieve stress in and of themselves, allowing men to create space between the anxieties of their day to day lives. An hour long walk can have numerous benefits, but the brilliance of breath work is that you can feel better in as little as ten minutes with a bit of practice (Max Strom, 2018).
To get a male perspective on a variety of breathing exercises, we worked with four different subjects on their impressions of three different breathing styles. As part of our interviews we covered box breathing, alternate nostril breathing, and Max Strom’s 4-7-8 breath. We found that different men have different feedback on each breathing style, but from the three techniques we feel that a large number of men can benefit. Check out how to do each of these short breathing exercises below.
Before beginning any of these breathing exercises find a comfortable seat. Keep a straight back, roll your shoulders up and back away from your ears, and take a few normals breaths to settle into your space, indoors or out.
1. Box breathing
To practice box breathing, you will follow a count of four. Start by inhaling for a count of four, hold your inhale for a count of four, exhale for a count of four, and hold the bottom of your exhale for a count of four. Continue until you feel your anxiety dissipating or for four minutes to start.
Box breathing is an excellent way to start breathwork, and based on research can create an almost-immediate sense of calm. Mayo Clinic found evidence to support this showing that this intentional deep breathing style practice helps regulate the autonomic nervous system and lower blood pressure (Healthline, 2018).
2. Alternate nostril breathing
To practice this style of breathing, you will be closing each nostril alternately, and breathing in the opposite nostril. To begin, close your right nostril with the thumb on your right hand and inhale fully through the left nostril. Now take your pinky finger of your right hand and close the left nostril, exhaling through the right nostril. You will also inhale through the right nostril, close, and exhale through the left nostril. Inhale through the left nostril, and repeat this process for a few more breaths. See picture for hand positioning.
Similar to box breathing, alternate nostril breathing also helps to regulate the nervous system and lowers blood pressure. Additionally, this practice can help improve attention and fine motor coordination and performance (mindbodygreen, 2018).
3. 4-7-8 breathing
Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, right behind your front teeth.
Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4.
Hold your breath for a count of 7.
Release your breath from your mouth with a whooshing sound for a count of 8.
Without a break, breathe in again for a count of 4, repeating the entire technique 3-4 times in a row, then resume normal breathing and activity.
4-7-8 breathing slows down the rapid, shallow breathing that can occur when a person is anxious or stressed. The steady inhale and hold allow for more oxygen saturation in the body, impacting both your body and mind (Small Footprint Family, 2018).
With stress and anxiety becoming entirely too common in our day to day culture, breathwork provides a quick set of tools that may be used anywhere, from the yoga studio to your desk at work to the great outdoors. Breathwork can lower your blood pressure, regulate your nervous system, improve attention and fine motor skills, and increase your oxygen saturation all with just few minutes of your time. Stressors have been shown to have more long term predictors of mental health impacts in men, making the utilization of stress reduction techniques all the more important (The Conversation, 2018). The majority of men may always be more comfortable in nature than they are in a yoga studio, but yoga is so much more than a class-style asana practice. Try one of the breathing techniques above and see what it does for you.
Adaa.org. (2018). Facts & Statistics | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. [online] Available at: https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics [Accessed 29 Apr. 2018].
Guy Counseling. (2018). 8 Symptoms of an Anxiety Disorder in Men - Guy Counseling. [online] Available at: https://guycounseling.com/anxiety-men/ [Accessed 29 Apr. 2018].
Butera, R., Byron, E. and Elgelid, S. (n.d.). Yoga therapy for stress & anxiety.
Brandt, M., Ford, A. and Huber, J. (2018). Study shows benefits of breathing meditation among veterans with PTSD - Scope. [online] Scope. Available at: https://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2014/09/10/study-shows-benefits-of-breathing-meditation-among-veterans-with-ptsd/ [Accessed 29 Apr. 2018].
Max Strom. (2018). Breathe to Heal – Max Strom. [online] Available at: https://maxstrom.com/ [Accessed 29 Apr. 2018].
Eimers, S. (n.d.). balance yoga lounge RYT 200 Hour Manual. Ankeny, IA: balanced breath school of yoga, pp.145-148.
Healthline. (2018). Box Breathing: Techniques, Benefits, and More. [online] Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/box-breathing [Accessed 29 Apr. 2018].
mindbodygreen. (2018). 3 Reasons Everyone Should Try Alternate Nostril Breathing. [online] Available at: https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-12936/3-reasons-everyone-should-try-alternate-nostril-breathing.html [Accessed 29 Apr. 2018].
Small Footprint Family. (2018). Eliminate Stress, Anxiety and Panic in 57 Seconds. [online] Available at: https://www.smallfootprintfamily.com/4-7-8-breathing-stress-relief-techniques [Accessed 29 Apr. 2018].
The Conversation. (2018). Why stress is more likely to cause depression in men than in women. [online] Available at: http://theconversation.com/why-stress-is-more-likely-to-cause-depression-in-men-than-in-women-57624 [Accessed 29 Apr. 2018].