As the bar exam looms, your stress level is probably climbing. You are trying to improve your multiple choice accuracy, write more practice essays, and study the material you feel weak on. The exam, which seemed so far away in May, is coming up fast and it’s very common to feel increasingly stressed or anxious right now. The good news is that there’s yoga for that too!
The physical poses of yoga, or asanas, have many wonderful benefits. But if you want to focus on relaxation and calming your mind and body, yoga can be as simple as breathing. Pranayama, the formal practice of controlling breath, is a branch of yoga as well, and it is a wonderful way to de-stress during bar preparation.
The medical community has recently examined the impact of deep breathing on both physiology and mental state. Studies have shown that pranayama has a positive impact on mood and can reduce stress, anxiety, and muscle tension. The idea that simply breathing differently can help you cope with something as stressful as the bar exam may sound like a reach, but the science behind it is very straightforward.
Respiration directly affects the body’s physical stress response, and when that physical stress response is interrupted and calmed, people feel more physically relaxed and mentally calmer. How does it work? The way we breathe influences the sympathetic nervous system, which governs our flight or fight response in times of stress, and the parasympathetic nervous symptom, which calms down our physical response after a stressor.
When you breathe shallowly or rapidly, as many people do when afraid, worried, anxious or stressed, your body perceives a physical threat. It directs certain parts of the body work faster, like the heart and lungs, and releases adrenaline into your bloodstream. This would be beneficial if you were in real danger and needed to run away from something, but when you’re simply stressed, it just makes you feel worse physically and mentally.
When you take a deep breath, you are sending your body a message to relax. It slows the racing heart, rapid breaths, and other physical symptoms of stress and anxiety. It also dulls the fear-responses of the brain, and stimulates a feeling of calm.
How you feel really can be as simple as how you breathe. So, hopefully, you’re ready to give some yogic breathing techniques a chance. Here are some simple ones that are accessible to anyone. You can do these lying down or in a comfortable seated position.
Breath awareness- Belly breathing
Belly breathing is the easiest way to try this out. Most of us breathe too shallowly, especially when stressed, and the way to deepen your breath is to get it into your ribs and belly, not just your chest. Sit comfortably with your back straight or lie on your back and put one hand on your stomach. Close your eyes and start to breathe, working on deepening your breath so you can feel your belly expand as you inhale and contract when you exhale. Once you feel that happening, start to make your inhales and exhales longer and slower. Breathe this way for a few minutes, until you start to feel yourself relax.
Balanced breathing- Quartered breathing
Once you have worked on breathing deeply, you can try matching the length of your inhales and exhales- quartered breathing is a great way to start. Sit comfortably with your back straight, or lie down on your back. Close your eyes. Inhale for four counts, and then exhale for four counts, matching the length of your inhale and exhale. You want to feel your rib cage and belly expanding and contracting with your breathing. If comfortable, you can also add another four count where you hold your breath in between the inhale and exhale to make sure you are not breathing too quickly. If you add the hold, you’ll inhale for four, hold for four, and exhale for four. Continue breathing this way for several minutes, until you feel your mind and body relax.
Cooling breath (Sitkari)
To try a more traditional pranayama, try Sitkari, which is known for calming the mind and body. Sit comfortably with your shoulders relaxed. Open your mouth slightly and place your tongue just behind your teeth. Inhale slowly, feel the air passing over your tongue, and tilt your head slightly back, raising your chin upwards. Close your mouth and exhale through your nose, you slowly lowering your chin back to its normal position. Repeat for several breaths.
Try all of these and see what works best for you. You can do pranayama when you first get up to start your day calm and centered, during study breaks when you need to relax, right before bed to prepare for quality sleep, or all three! Remember, managing your stress is an important part of your exam preparation, and pranayama can be an easily accessible and effective tool.
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Did you find this post helpful? Check the other articles in this post:
- Passing the Bar Exam One Asana At a Time, Part One
- Passing the Bar Exam One Asana At a Time, Part Two: Poses to Enhance Your Ability to Concentrate
- Passing the Bar Exam One Asana At a Time, Part Three: Poses to Counteract Poor Posture When Studying
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