Pranayama for Anxiety and Depression


In ayurveda, the body is more than your physical body. There are layers or sheaths known as Koshas. The Pranamaya Kosha is the subtle energy body, and is sandwiched between the physical body (Annamaya Kosha) and the mental body (Manomaya Kosha). Prana (vitality) is taken in by all five senses; however, can be directed by the breath. When we breathe deeply and consciously, we have the ability to heal and nourish. I’ve been working with some different pranayama techniques in my home practice, and I’d like to share two below what I’ve found help manage my anxiety and depression.

Pranayama technique for anxiety:

For those moments you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, a great tool is the Bhramari (bumblebee) breath. I love this pranayama because it brings the mind into focus very quickly, and calms the mind of all its incessant chatter. This is one of my favorite techniques to use when I’m travelling, or when I feel frazzled and scattered. This is also great for when you have a lot of ruminating thoughts or worry. It cuts through that murkiness and brings the mind into a one-pointed focus. Plus, the vibration helps to soothe the nervous system and leave you feeling calm and serene.

This technique can be done just about anywhere and can be done with or without the hand mudra. Start by taking your thumbs and gently pressing them into the flaps in your ear (tragus). Place your fingers over the head and forehead. You will breathe evenly into the nostrils. As you exhale, keep the mouth closed, breathe out through the nostrils and hum the sound of the bumblebee. The tongue can either rest gently in the mouth or at the roof of the mouth. Keep the spine long and neutral and a comfortable base (either sitting cross legged, on a chair, or on a blanket or bolster).

You can vary the pitch and volume of the huming to suit your needs. I would recommend starting with 3-5 rounds, and then pause for a few natural breaths to notice how you feel.

Pranayama technique for depression:

For those moments when a swell of emotion arises, or you find yourself in deep despair, a great pranayama is pursed-lipped breathing. This is something I do to help move that energy. If I have a swell of emotion such as sadness, frustration or anger, my tendency is to clench and hold the breath. This is not what you want to do; but rather, allow the emotion and that energy to flow. Oftentimes, we’re taught to not show our emotions; rather tense up, push it down, and/or power through it. In my experience, this tends to harm more than heal. Something I have been working with in my own practice in these moments is to breathe and to silently say to myself, “stay open.” This helps lessen the tension I feel when experiencing big bouts of sadness.

When these moments occur, first notice and silently resolve to yourself to not hold the breath or clench the body. Breathe evenly and smoothly through the nostrils. Exhale out the mouth with pursed lips. Imagine you are blowing through a straw or blowing bubbles when you exhale. What this does is lengthen the exhalation which in turns stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. If you notice you hold the breath when big swells of emotion occur, you are stimulating your flight or flight response (sympathetic nervous system). By exhaling out through pursed lips, you soothe the nervous system and calm the mind. This technique is great for panic attacks as well.

This breathing technique can be done anywhere. Eyes can remain open or closed. I suggest starting with 3-5 rounds, and as you breathe in this fashion, silently say to yourself, “remain open”, “feel.” Take as many rounds as you need until you feel calm and centered. Pause and reflect how the practice has impacted you.

I’d love to hear your feedback with these practices. For more information on how yoga, pranayama and mediation can help with anxiety and depression, visit my website at TaraLaval.com I will be offering a workshop on August 24th from 1-3PM at Jai Dee Massage and Yoga Studio in Seminole Heights, Florida. Click here for more details and to sign up!