4 Breathwork Techniques to Release Anxiety

Yogic breathwork may help reduce stress and alleviate the symptoms of thyroid disease.
4 Breathwork Techniques to Release Anxiety

Often an issue with our physical bodies is accompanied by an emotional or mental health issue, too. Sometimes feeling lousy physically can dampen our spirit.  


Many with a thyroid condition experience depression and anxiety. Properly treating the thyroid is the first step in addressing any accompanying depression or anxiety. While there’s no substitute for a trustworthy Care Team, we can complement this care with lifestyle modalities to support our mental health symptoms.


A yoga practice is one such modality that offers tools to take control of our own physical and mental well-being. 


To be in a perpetual state of stress or anxiety is to deplete all aspects of your health. When your mind starts churning with anxious thoughts, your cortisol level shoots up. This signals to your body that you are under attack, triggering the fight-or-flight response. Your nervous system essentially reacts as if you were being chased by a dangerous beast that terrorized our long-ago ancestors. Your breathing becomes shallow, your muscles tense, and you prepare yourself for the onslaught.


Blessed are we to no longer be chased by tigers, so we need new coping mechanisms to manage these modern-day stressors. Below are several simple techniques that may help.

Left-Nostril Breathing


It’s nearly impossible to use this technique and not feel calmer afterward. Strange as it may sound, “don’t knock it ‘til you try it,” as the saying goes. 


To use the left-nostril technique:

  • Sit comfortably with a straight spine and take a couple of deep slow breaths,
  • Place a finger on the outside of your right nostril and press it inwards,  
  • Slowly inhale through your left nostril, and slowly exhale through your left nostril,
  • Continue for one or two minutes until you begin to feel your mind and body relax.

You can modify left-nostril breathing in a number of ways:

  • Inhale for a count of four, exhale for a count of four,
  • Inhale for a count of four, exhale for a count of eight,
  • Inhale for a count of four, pause for a count of one, exhale four counts, pause for one or two counts.

Play with the numbers for inhaling, pausing, and exhaling to see what works best for you. If your anxious mind gets hung up on the count and no longer feels relaxing, bring your focus to the sound or feeling of your breath. 

Count Backward by 3’s


When we engage in an activity - physical or mental - we create neural pathways in our brains. These pathways are like shortcuts so that when we engage in the activity again, it becomes easier. 


Our brain does this for both positive and negative behaviors, which is why it can feel so hard to change our behavior. We have a well-worn groove to coast along right in our gray matter.


Counting backward helps us interrupt our familiar behaviors by giving us something else to focus on: 

  • Start at one hundred,
  • Count backward by the number three,
  • Go as far as you can until you reach zero,
  • Repeat as needed.

This technique works because it gives our minds something to do that is just challenging enough to hold our attention. While counting backward, it’s difficult to pay attention to our anxious thoughts. 


When our thoughts quiet down, our breathing slows, our bodies relax, and a positive cycle begins. Practicing this or any calming technique can help build new neural pathways to express healthier behaviors.

Sa Ta Na Ma


This yogic mantra, used in kundalini meditation, is similar to counting backward because it gives the mind something to focus on besides anxious thoughts.  

  • Sit quietly with your hands on your knees or in your lap, palms facing up,
  • Use your thumb to tap each finger in turn,
  • Say aloud one sound each time you tap a finger. Sa-first finger, ta-second finger, etc.
  • Repeat several times or for up to several minutes.

Saying the sounds out aloud creates a small vibration in the throat which yogis believe triggers a relaxation response.

See Five Things


Try on a cognitive-behavioral technique that works in a similar way to Sa Ta Na Ma - by giving your mind something to do. When anxiety hijacks our thoughts, it takes us away from the present moment. This technique helps bring you back to the here and now. 


Notice when you feel anxious and try the following:

  • Pause for a moment,
  • Look around and list five things you see - silently or aloud,
  • Listen and list five things you hear,
  • Feel and list five things you feel - external or body sensations,
  • Repeat by listing four things you see, hear, and feel,
  • Then list three things, two things, one thing.
  • Check in with yourself to notice how you feel. 
  • Repeat as needed.

Use these techniques not only when you feel anxious, but also to create a consistent practice. A few moments of your day invested in purposeful relaxation can create new habits and truly rewire your anxious mind. 

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