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Anxiety is frightening and distressing. Pranayama breathing can help us regain calm, clarity and control.

In Bikram yoga we use Pranayama to warm up our bodies, expand our lungs and prepare for practice. It puts us into a mindful rhythm with the body and helps us focus. When we leave the studio, however, life happens. Anxiety can strike for a moment due to stress or a crisis, or it can be chronic, affecting every part of our life.
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We often hold our breath, or breathe shallowly when we’re stressed — think of animals panting in fear. This in turn triggers a fear response in our body, causing us to tense up further. Our muscles and brain don’t get the oxygen they need so we feel frantic and pinched.

Pranayama breathing can break the cycle of anxiety and fear. “The breath and mind go together,” says Swami Karunananda, a senior teacher at Yogaville in Buckingham, Virginia, who specializes in using pranayama to deal with fear, anger, and depression — conditions that often accompany anxiety. “If the breath is calm, steady, and even, so are we. If the breath is shallow, agitated, and arrhythmic, the mind won’t be able to concentrate.”

Next time you’re in a stressful situation stop and take deep, mindful breathes (if you’re in a crowded underground carriage you can skip elbow swinging bit!) Breathe steadily in and out on a count of six. Repeat this until you feel your heart rate slow and your body begin to relax.

Have you used breathing to fight anxiety? Share your experience in the comments.

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