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Fully on the verge of freaking out? Just breathe, babe.

Raise your hand if this feels familiar: You're reviewing your notes for tomorrow's chem test and, without even realizing it, your breathing suddenly becomes fast, shallow and ragged. Next thing you know, you feel frazzled, frantic and unable to focus. What just happened?

Shallow breathing is a natural response to stress. Also called fight-or-flight mode, your brain processes emotional turmoil--like feeling overwhelmed by a big test--and turns it into a physical experience of panic.

And while you can't always control how you react to stressful situations, you do have the power to recognize when things are out of whack and you need to take some simple steps to quickly calm your body and mind. How? It's all about being mindful about your breathing.

Back to the Breath

Why is learning how to do breathwork such a handy tool? When you're stressed, controlled breathing lets you tap into your parasympathetic nervous system, which puts you into a relaxed state.

And unlike yoga or meditation, you can do breathwork at any time--while you're sitting in class waiting for a history test to land on your desk (when you can't really bust out your mat) or while you're riding the team bus to your lacrosse tourney (because it's hard to visualize when 30 people are talking at once).

"Our bodies have this incredible, built-in self-care tool that is always with us," says Ashley Neese, breathwork teacher in Oakland, Calif, and author of How To Breathe: 25 Simple Practices for Calm, Joy, and Resilience. "All that is required for us to access it is practice and consistency."

And in today's culture, which thrives on busyness, we need mindful breathing more than ever. Bouncing from school to sports to social drama to never-ending homework can leave you feeling anxious and exhausted all the time. But employing regular breathwork can help you regain mental clarity and control over your body, says Lisa McNeil, a Wisconsin-based manual therapist for Team USA and professional athletes.

Breathing Basics

Noticing the difference in your breath when you're stressed is the first step. Then, focus on your exhale. It often feels easier to take in a big, deep cleansing inhale, but all you're doing is taking in oxygen. The exhale is when all the good stuff happens, says McNeil.

"The exhale is when you actually start the oxygenation of tissue and rid your body of toxins and carbon dioxide," she notes. Not only does the process promote a sense of calmness, it can boost your immune system (bye, winter colds) and help you think clearer since you're getting more pure oxygen to your brain without all that C[O.sub.2] baggage.

But how do you slow down stress in the moment? Here are five ways to practice better breathing IRL.

HOW TO BREATHE WHEN...

YOU'RE FUMING OVER A FRIEND FIGHT

Shift from mad to mindful with this three-minute practice.

* Stand with your feet hip-distance apart.

* Set an intention for your practice, like "I intend to be kind, even under pressure."

* Take long breaths in through your nose.

* Exhale quickly through your mouth.

* Repeat this for three rounds.

* Place one of your hands on your belly.

* Inhale deeply through your nose.

* Exhale gently through your nose.

* As you breathe, bring your attention to your hand, observing the natural rise and fall of your belly. Repeat this for two full minutes.

* Afterward, note any changes you experienced by jotting down a few thoughts in your journal.

YOU'RE TOSSING AND TURNING IN BED

When you can't quiet your mind, deep breaths help you slip into a sleepy state.

* Get in bed and make yourself comfy.

* Set your intention, such as "I'm going to rest and reset."

* Begin breathing in and out through your nose slowly for a few rounds.

* At the bottom of your exhale, pause for three to four counts.

* Inhale, repeating the practice until you fall asleep.

YOU'RE ABOUT TO PLAY IN THE BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP

Take a few mins to calm your mind before hitting the court with the 4-7-8 breath.

* Inhale through your nose for a count of four.

* Hold your breath for a count of seven.

* Exhale through your mouth for a count of eight. Repeat this for five rounds.

YOU'RE HEADING TO AUDITIONS FOR THE SPRING MUSICAL

A grounding breath can anchor you in the present while nixing those nerves.

* Take a moment to settle into a chair with your feet flat on the floor.

* Set your practice intention, such as "I intend to do my best."

* Inhale and exhale gently through your nose for five cycles.

* With a slow inhale, imagine drawing up energy from the earth into the soles of your feet, up to your knees and back toward your hips.

* On the exhale, imagine the energy flowing from your hips to your knees, and then back down through the soles of your feet to the earth.

* Continue the cycle for five minutes.

* Allow your breath to settle into a regular pattern. Sit for one more minute.

YOU'RE ANXIOUSLY AWAITING YOUR FRENCH TEST RESULTS

You can't do much about your grade now (c'est la vie)--but you *can* control your nervousness.

* While seated, bring your right hand in front of your face. Bring your index and middle fingers to rest between your eyebrows as an anchor. The active fingers will be the thumb and ring finger.

* Inhale deeply through your nose. With your thumb, close your right nostril and exhale through the left nostril.

* Keeping the right nostril closed, inhale through the left nostril.

* Open your right nostril while closing your left nostril with your ring finger and exhale through the right nostril.

* Inhale through the right nostril while the left nostril remains closed with your ring finger.

* Release the ring finger from your left nostril while closing the right nostril and exhale. These two full breaths count as one cycle.

* Repeat for five cycles.

By Jessica D'Argenio Waller

3 WAYS TO LEVEL UP YOUR BREATHWORK PRACTICE

TWICE A DAY, TAKE A BREATHER.

Focus on your breath for five to seven minutes before getting out of bed in the morning, then for another five to seven minutes right after you turn out the lights at night, suggests McNeil. Breathwork also is something you can do easily for a few moments on the way to school or while sitting in class.

SET AN INTENTION. Stating a mini mantra before you start, like "I intend to keep an open mind," or "I intend to trust my feelings," can set the tone for your breathwork routine and keep you connected to the reasons why you're practicing.

TRY JOURNALING. Have a couple extra moments at the end of your breathwork practice? Journaling can be a helpful way to further crystallize your intention--and bring your mind and body into connection.
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Title Annotation:HEALTH
Author:Waller, Jessica D'Argenio
Publication:Girls' Life
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2020
Words:1129
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