3 Breathing Techniques to Balance Your Hormones and Digestion
Balance can seem like the ultimate state of well-being, where everything is perfectly aligned and functioning without any glitches. With our chaotic lives, balance can seem like a totally unachievable goal. Or at least, one that requires a massive overhaul. The truth is, time and time again, my clients get to this place by layering in simple strategies over time. Strategies like strategically incorporating breathing techniques around eating or at key times during the day. Yes, I’m talking about a free, easy, and completely achievable path to balance: harnessing the power of your breath!
There are several breathing techniques have been shown to help restore balance of your mood, mental state, and even your hormones and digestion. Here are a few of my personal favorites, particularly if you are struggling with hormonal or digestive issues:
4-7-8 Breathing Technique
The 4-7-8 breathing technique is a breathing pattern developed by holistic health practitioner Dr. Andrew Weil. It is based on a yoga technique called pranayama, designed to calm the body down and induce relaxation.
This is a great technique for balancing digestion. The body is best able to digest food when it is in a calm state. If you’re body is cranking out the stress hormones, it means resources are being diverted away from digestion (and reproductive health) because your body doesn’t view it as a priority. Before a meal you want to tap into the parasympathetic (or calming) nervous system. If the sympathetic nervous system is firing during meals, the hormones released by this system will interfere with digestive juice secretion (bile, enzymes, and gastric acid). Being highly stressed while eating can lead to speeding through the meal, not chewing thoroughly enough, which causes digestive problems such as acid reflux. Therefore, this technique is best used before or during meals, particularly if you are sitting down to eat after a stressful day.
Also, since this type of breathing helps your body relax, it is a great way to help you fall asleep. Getting enough sleep is one of the best ways to balance your hormones.
The 4-7-8 technique should be done while sitting or lying down, here are the basic steps:
- First, through parted lips, exhale completely through your mouth making a whooshing sound.
- Next, close your mouth and inhale through your nose while silently counting to four.
- Hold the breath for seven seconds.
- Make a whooshing exhale through your mouth for eight seconds.
- Repeat the process at least four times, working your way up to eight cycles.
- Relax and eat or fall asleep.
*You can do this breathwork discreetly (whooshing sound isn’t necessary to reap the benefits of this!)
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Sometimes you still want balance or to clear your mind without falling asleep, so there are a few techniques that can help. The first technique is called alternate nostril breathing. This method comes from yoga and is known for its ability to clear negative energy. It has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety and increase mental clarity. It has also been found to improve cognitive, respiratory, and metabolic functions. Keeping stress under control can help control cortisol levels, a stress hormone that increase fat storage and triggers food cravings.
To practice alternate nostril breathing, first sit comfortably with your legs crossed.
- Exhale completely and then use your right thumb to close your right nostril.
- Inhale through your left nostril, then before exhaling, close off the left nostril with your fingers.
- Remove your thumb from the right nostril and exhale through the right side.
- Inhale through the right side, then close off this nostril.
- Exhale through the left nostril and inhale, then switch sides before exhaling again.
- You can do this as many times as you want, but always finish by exhaling on the left side.
Kapalabhati or “skull shining breath”
The final technique is called the kapalabhati or the “skull shining breath”. It helps increase oxygen flow and improves digestion. It can also help boost hormones that help you feel more focused and balanced. This makes it an energizing technique to be used in the morning or when you need to complete an important task. It is especially good for when you are feeling that “afternoon slump” that can cause you to reach for a high-sugar snack to keep your energy up. This will provide you with more sustained energy. It’s even been compared to a cup of coffee!
In order to perform this breath, you should first sit with an upright spine. The point of this breathing is to have a forceful exhale, while maintaining a natural inhale.
- Contract your lower abdomen on an exhale and squeeze out all the air.
- Let the inhale occur naturally and gently. Let it be longer than your exhale.
- Contract your abdomen and exhale again.
- Perform the cycle at least 10 times.
These techniques can be done at any time during the day, depending whether you need a boost or just to relax. Their ability to modify how your nervous system is reacting can in turn help improve your digestion and balance your hormones. Their shouldn’t be underestimated either. Even my most complex hormones and digestive issue cases see improvement with these techniques. In fact, I view some type or combination of types of breathing techniques to be fundamental to all of my client plans. It’s as important as any of the dietary changes or supplement protocols!
Tried any of these techniques before? Let me know in the comments!