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9 Herbs and Foods That Boost Serotonin

Serotonin is often referred to as the “happy hormone” and its production is closely linked to vitamin B6 and the amino acid tryptophan. Serotonin plays a vital role in our overall well-being, sleep habits, appetite, food cravings, and the way we experience pain. Lack of serotonin often leads to panic attacks, anxiety, eating disorders, chronic pain, and low mood. Fortunately, there are several foods and herbs that you can consume to bring serotonin back to normal levels.

small bowls full of herbs
Photo by Max Pixel/Nikon Coolpix P7000

St. John's Wort

St John’s Wort, or Hypericum perforatum, is a medicinal herb with antidepressant qualities given by its many bioactive compounds. The most important ones are hypericin and hyperforin. Hyperforin boosts many mood-related brain chemicals and helps serotonin bind to serotonin receptors. St. John’s Wort increases brain serotonin synthesis and is one of the most widely studied natural treatments for depression. The prestigious Cochrane review comprising of 29 international studies have found that St John’s Wort can be as effective as pharmaceutical antidepressants.

Panax Ginseng

Panax Ginseng is one of the most popular herbs on the planet and an all-round healthy choice for those that want to boost their immune system, overall well-being, and energy levels. Panax means “all-heal” and it’s quite accurate given its many health benefits. Ginseng increases the level of serotonin and rejuvenates the mind. It’s also beneficial for those who suffer from diabetes, unclear thinking, and erectile dysfunction.


Kava-kava is a plant of the western Pacific that is widely consumed throughout Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia. Kava has been shown to have a positive effect on cognition and attention by relaxing the mind. Kava extracts bind to GABA, dopamine, serotonin, and opiate receptors. This herb typically contains around 18 types of kavalactones, each having various psychoactive effects; there are a number of strains with varying profiles of kavalactones. As a result, effects vary slightly across strains. Kava helps those that suffer from insomnia and it has also been used to treat breast, bladder, colon and prostate cancer.


Kratom, or Mitragyna Speciosa, is a psychoactive plant used as a stimulant, sedative, pain killer, or treatment for opiate addiction. The alkaloids of this plant function as agonists for the serotonin, norepinephrine, and k-opioid receptors. Kratom is indigenous to Southeast Asia, but has recently attracted international attention due to its effectiveness in alleviating depression, relieving pain, and helping with opiate withdrawal.


Turmeric is part of usual Southeast Asian cuisine and has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine. It regulates neurotransmitter activity in the brain and re-establishes normal neurotransmitter levels, thus reducing symptoms of depression. Turmeric protects the stomach from ulcers and digestive issues that can arise due to depression.

Dark Chocolate

Aside from it being a tasty treat, dark chocolate contains serotonin and precursors to serotonin such as L-tryptophan. Consuming dark chocolate regularly can lower symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. Dark chocolate also lowers blood pressure and improves blood flow to the brain and heart. Consuming too much dark chocolate may lead to excess serotonin in the body, which results in anxiety, insomnia, and gastrointestinal issues.


The avocado tree is thought to have originated in Southern Mexico, in the Tehuacan Valley. The name “avocado” originates from the Nahuatl word “ahuacatl”, which means testicle, possibly due to the similarity in shape between the fruit and the actual human testicle. Avocados are consumed all over the world due to their fresh taste and many health benefits. Avocados are rich in tryptophan, protein, magnesium, Vitamin E and K, and potassium.

Bacopa Monnieri

Bacopa Monnieri is an herb with a long history within Ayurvedic medicine. It is widely used around the world as a treatment for brain disorders, poor memory, ADHD, and anxiety. Bacopa Monnieri improves brain activity and increases cognition skills and memory. Bacosides are responsible for regulating serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Bacopa Monnieri is also an adaptogen. Adaptogens block stress signals at a neurochemical level, preventing a response in the body.

Green Tea

This natural supplement increases serotonin levels through the action of the amino acid L-theanine. Studies have shown that elderly people who consume green tea on a daily basis showed fewer signs of depression. Drinking between 2 and 5 cups of green tea a day balances serotonin and dopamine levels and this helps in keeping depression away. For those who are caffeine-sensitive, green tea is also available in decaf.

In addition to the healthy foods and herbs mentioned on the list, you should also consider changing certain aspects of your lifestyle. Exposure to sunlight is the quickest way to raise your serotonin levels. Also, exercising regularly is seen by many as the most efficient antidepressant.

Can you think of more natural serotonin boosters that are not on the list? Let us know in the comments below.

Adrian Carol Szasz is a freelance writer and an editor at Nootrodelic. He loves finding ways to bio-hack his life and make the most out of each day.

All information and resources provided are based on the opinions and experiences of the author, unless otherwise noted. Information is intended to encourage readers to do their own research and come to their own conclusions, and should never substitute or replace the recommendations of a qualified healthcare provider. Always consult your physician before making changes to your diet, exercise, or general wellness plan, even when using holistic methods.

Chickweed: The Delicious Medicinal Hiding in Your Yard

Right below our feet grows a green treasure that often goes unnoticed: chickweed. This so-called “weed” is common in temperate climates, but its short stature and humble flowers make it easy to overlook. Chickweed grows abundantly in nutrient-rich areas like garden beds, greenhouses, compost piles, and other nooks and crannies across the yard. This small, earth-hugging plant has tiny, white flowers that resemble stars, hence the plant’s Latin name, Stellaria media, which means “in the midst of stars.” It's a fitting moniker for such a stellar plant medicine.

chickweed flower blossom
Photo by Sarah Baldwin

When it comes to herbs, the line between food and medicine can be blurry, and chickweed definitely qualifies as both. It’s a tasty, wild green that is slightly salty without a trace of bitterness. The plant makes a delicious addition to salads and often volunteers alongside cultivated greens like kale and lettuce. A versatile food, chickweed can also be used as a cooked green in stir-fries, soups, omelets, and more. While most modern folks consider this plant a pesky weed, during World War II it was encouraged in American victory gardens as an easy-to-grow green that survives cool temperatures.

This green goody is deeply nutritive, providing abundant vitamins and minerals. According to Mark Pederson in Nutritional Herbology, chickweed is high in calcium, chlorophyll, cobalt, zinc, copper, iron, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, manganese, silica, and vitamins A and C. Chickweed also contains over 20 percent protein, and it's a nice plant to munch on while working in the garden to help stave off hunger. What’s more, chickweed increases the permeability of mucous membranes, promoting better absorption of nutrients from the digestive tract. This makes it a good food for those who tend toward anemia or malnourishment as well as folks recovering from illness.

As a medicinal plant, chickweed’s cooling effects help soothe fever, infection, and inflammation. A poultice of the fresh plant is useful for inflammatory conditions like insect stings, wounds, acne, cysts, blisters, rashes, and inflamed eyes. In her book Healing Wise, Susun Weed recommends eating chickweed regularly to improve thyroid function, dissolve reproductive cysts, soothe a chronically inflamed urinary tract, and ease myriad digestive issues from constipation and hemorrhoids to ulcers and stomach cancer.

chickweed plant
Photo by Sarah Baldwin

According Maude Grieve's famed 1931 book, A Modern Herbal, chickweed is an old-wives’ remedy for weight loss. The plant contains saponins, soap-like compounds that can dissolve excess fat from the system. One study found that chickweed juice was able to suppress the accumulation of body weight, liver weight, and cholesterol in mice fed a high-fat diet. In The Earthwise Herbal, Matthew Wood attests to chickweed’s weight loss properties and lists cellulite, high cholesterol, and fat deposits like lipomas as indications for the plant.

As you can see, there are many reasons to make friends with this versatile herb! Foraging for wild foods provides many essential nutrients missing from the modern diet in a way that the body can absorb better than most manufactured supplements. It’s also an inexpensive way to eat plenty of greens, connect with nature, and make healthy living part of your regular routine.

One of my all-time favorite ways to eat chickweed is in smoothies, so I’ve included a recipe below. An easy way to preserve the plant is to put it in a food processor or blender, adding just enough water to blend. Once blended, fill ice cube trays with the green mash and then freeze and store them in freezer bags. Then you can add these chlorophyll cubes to smoothies during hot months when chickweed is not as abundant.

Chickweed Smoothies


• 2 large handfuls (about 2 oz.) chickweed
• 1 1/2 c. unsweetened coconut milk
• 1 c. carrot juice
• 1 banana
• 1 apple
• 1 avocado
• 4-5 oz. strawberries
• 3 oz. frozen raspberries (or berry blend)


1. In a blender, add coconut milk, banana, apple, and chickweed. Blend until combined.

2. Turn off the blender to add carrot juice and avocado; blend until combined.

3. Add strawberries and frozen raspberries and blend well, adding more liquids (coconut milk, carrot juice, or water) if needed. This recipe makes two 24-ounce smoothies.

Sarah Baldwin is immersed in the world of herbalism, writing and teaching about the physical and spiritual benefits of healing plants. She is the author of The Herbal Healing Deck, an earthy and mystical oracle deck featuring guidance and wisdom from medicinal plants. Sarah is a regular contributor to Plant Healer Magazine and The Herbarium and has also written course material for The Herbal Academy. Her interests include gardening, yoga, meditation, dance, and music.

The Impact Your Diet Has on Your Mental Health

You are what you eat. You hear that often as a way to stress the importance of good nutrition. We don’t really think about it, but it is true that the food we eat becomes part of our bodies. So when we eye that bag of potato chips, thinking about it turning into an increase in our waistline or another chin can make us reconsider purchasing it.

Eating too many “bad” foods like potato chips or cookies and other high fat and sugar, low nutrient foods can give us unhealthy bodies. Obesity is the root of many physical health problems, so controlling our food intake is essential.

But did you know that unhealthy eating also affects our mental health? In addition to gaining weight or increasing your cholesterol levels, you could be compromising your mental health by eating too many of the wrong kinds of food or avoiding the healthier choices.

fruit, yogurt and granola breakfast bowl
unsplash-logo Jannis Brandt

Hearty Hippocampi

Australian researchers found a connection between the quality of one’s diet and common mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. Physical evidence was found by examining the hippocampus, a part of the brain which helps develop learning and memory and is important to mental health.

While taking many factors into account, such as socioeconomic status and family history of mental illness, researchers concluded diet affected the size of the hippocampus. Adults who ate a generally healthy diet typically had larger hippocampi, and those who had a poor diet had smaller hippocampi.

Researchers concluded that there was a direct link between diet and mental health. It’s not exact, but it’s further evidence that our diet is important to our overall health and mental well-being.

Necessary Nutrients

Your brain needs nutrients to be healthy. The only way they will get there is by you eating healthy. Your brain is a very complex organ, but it won’t tell you exactly what it needs. You have to educate yourself (using your brain) to find out.

You often hear how bad fat is for you, but it is essential to your diet and to your brain. Your brain is two-thirds fat and needs an ongoing supply of healthy fatty acids to maintain high-speed transmission of nerve impulses.

A diet rich in these “good” fats will also protect you from developing depression or degenerative brain diseases such Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.

Vitamins C and E and other antioxidants protect the brain’s delicate structures from potential damage caused by free radicals in our diet and environment.

B-complex vitamins battle inflammation in the brain, which can be a byproduct of protein metabolism. This process keeps the blood flowing in your brain and reduces the risk of damage, which could affect coordination and reaction time.

Your brain needs protein to help control blood sugar levels and to maintain the chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine, which affect our mood and energy levels. Think of them as nutrient superheroes battling the Grim Mood Reaper — and your only hope for survival.

Food for Thought

So what foods should we choose to properly feed our brains and keep us happy? Generally speaking, you should eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in meat and dairy products. That said, you can eat too much of anything. Almonds are touted as a super healthy food item, but they are high in calories and could contribute to obesity. Moderation is key.

Two well-known healthy diets are the Mediterranean and the Japanese diets. Both contain nutrient-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and fish. Red meat is consumed only in small portions and isn’t a major part of either diet.

These diets provide the essential vitamins and minerals your brain needs. There are no processed foods, and sugars come from natural sources. You could model your diet after either of these or make up your own. Just be sure to you choose foods that are rich in brain-protecting antioxidants.

Choose fish over meat, eat fresh fruits and vegetables when you can and avoid processed foods. Here are a few other tasty items you can include in your diet:

• Blueberries
• Cranberries
• Spinach
• Cilantro
• Walnuts
• Pecans
• Artichokes
• Red wine
• Chocolate

Yes, chocolate can be part of a brain-healthy diet! Just be sure to choose dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate or other overly processed chocolate in candy. The higher the cocoa content, the higher the number of antioxidants you will consume.

Healthy Habits

Diet is important to brain health. When we eat processed foods high in sugar, fat and carbohydrates, we feel sluggish and tired. A trip to a fast food restaurant might make us happy at first. But in the long run, it just adds to our lethargy and our waistline. And have you ever felt hungry shortly after eating an unhealthy “combo meal”? That’s not a good sign.

You can eat all the right foods and still have poor mental health. Depression and other mental disorders can affect us no matter our diet, so be sure to get medical attention if a change in diet doesn’t help you. Plus, eating is just one thing. We need physical activity, socialization and mental stimulation for our brains to be healthy. Be sure you don’t overlook these needs while focusing on your diet.

But your diet is something only you can control, so it’s important you make informed decisions before putting anything in your mouth. You will be whatever you eat, and your brain will respond accordingly.

4 Common Breathing Difficulties + Habits to Help You Breathe Better

girl with wind in hair
Photo by Rodolfo Sanches Carvalho on Unsplash

Having difficulties breathing may complicate your life greatly, making it impossible to function and deal with your everyday tasks with ease. These difficulties can be caused by various health issues, and although it’s sometimes hard to control them, it’s not impossible. Here is some advice on how to create good breathing exercise habits to help you deal with your breathing problems.


breathing exercises for asthma
Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

Asthma is the inflammation of lung airways, which then become irritated and tight, causing breathing problems. It’s usually triggered by various allergens, like dust mites, molds or pollen, but it can also be triggered by some medications, polluted air, or even strong emotional reactions. It causes shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing. Identifying the triggers and trying to avoid them may help to some extent, but there are also exercises you can do to improve your breathing, including Buteyko breathing, which revolves around consciously slowing down and shallowing your breathing. Certain yoga exercises and relaxation techniques may also help you stay calmer and get your breathing in order.


woman with face to sky
Photo by Eli DiFaria on Unsplash

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, can be either chronic bronchitis or emphysema, though it’s usually the combination of these two conditions. Emphysema means that your airways are narrowed, making it difficult for air to get into your lungs, which often leaves you breathless. Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, is the cause of inflamed tubes, which leads to serious and sometimes painful coughing. What they both have in common is the limited airflow caused by damage to the airways.

Although there isn’t a cure for this disease, there are ways to manage its symptoms. For example, there are two breathing techniques to help with COPD issues. The first is pursed-lips breathing, which means you breathe in through the nose and breathe out through your mouth, with your lips pursed. This helps slow your breathing and keep your airways open for a longer time. The second one is diaphragmatic breathing, which is deep breathing, performed by contracting the diaphragm. Also, physical exercise can get your muscles into good shape, making breathing easier on your lungs. Similarly, eating smaller meals, but more often, can take the pressure off your lungs and ease your breathing.


woman sleeping on white bedding
Photo by Vladislav Muslakov on Unsplash

Apnea is basically suspension of breathing. It’s usually voluntary, like holding your breath under water, but it can also be induced mechanically or by drugs. In people suffering from sleep apnea, it can happen during sleep, when the muscles in the back of the throat relax and cause the airways to narrow or completely close, preventing you from breathing. Usually your brain wakes you up, but sometimes it happens several times a night, without you even being aware. There isn’t a blood test that can be used to diagnose sleep apnea, but you can confirm if you suffer from it by taking a trustworthy sleep apnea test.

Losing weight may help you with this condition, as well as sleeping on your side or wearing a special mask. Furthermore, there are breathing exercises that might help, such as breathing into a balloon to strengthen your throat muscles, or tongue hold, which is breathing through your nose while holding as much of your tongue as you can pressed against the roof of your mouth. In addition, try losing some bad habits, like smoking or drinking alcohol and create some good ones, like exercising regularly.


seasonal allergies
Photo by Nine Köpfer on Unsplash

Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, is the most frequent form of seasonal allergies. It happens when the allergens in the air cause nose inflammation, leading to shortness of breath due to a runny nose, sinus pressure, and congestion. The allergens that trigger hay fever are usually pet hair, molds, or pollen. Even though you should avoid these allergens, it’s not always possible, so you may want to consider preventive measures, like long-term immunotherapy. Also, as with asthma, exercising Buteyko breathing frequently might be helpful.

As soon as you feel it’s difficult for you to breathe, don’t wait for it to go away on its own. Breathing difficulties may be a sign of serious health problems, so visit your doctor as soon as possible to receive the right treatment.

Sophia Smith is beauty and health blogger, an eco-lifestyle lover, and a food enthusiast. She is very passionate about natural skincare, minimalist wardrobe, yoga and mindful living. Sophia writes mostly about beauty-related topics in her articles. She has contributed to a number of publications including: Eco Warrior Princess, Herbs Mother Earth Living, Elegant Luxe and Carousel. You can find out more about her writing by following her on: Facebook, Twitter, and Google+

5 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues Using Essential Oils

Have the last, dragging weeks of cold weather been bringing you down recently? The wind is biting; your allergies are acting up; you can’t seem to fight your fatigue; it seems like spring might never come. If waiting for the coming warmer days seems unbearable, have no fear, the herbalists are here! Fight off a variety of wintertime ailments with these simple essential oil recipes.

essential oils with diffuser
Photo by SIerra Vandervort

Diffuse a mixture of warming oils to heat up the energy in your room

Clove oil has a fantastic, spicy aroma that can instantly warm your space. Commonly associated with the element of fire, clove is also very stimulating to the conscious mind and acts as a natural aphrodisiac. Commonly used as an anti-inflammatory, clove oil has been shown to improve blood circulation and naturally boost energy. As an extract from the evergreen trees, it’s still fitting for wintertime, but brings some refreshing energy back. It can also lower stress levels, alleviate respiratory issues and boost your immune system: winter wonder-oil number one!

Recipe: Try using a mixture of clove, sandalwood and orange essential oils in your favorite diffuser when you’re feeling chilled to the bone.

Make an all-natural citrus perfume oil to lift your spirits

Citrus oils are commonly credited for helping fight depression, and bergamot is a potentially less popular but amazingly scented oil. As a popular component in most commercial perfumes, bergamot has a characteristically citrus but slightly woody aroma. It’s also commonly used in skin care products for its natural ability to help heal scars and even distribute pigments. But be careful, applying bergamot oil can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight than normal. To avoid sunburn always dilute oils before applying them to your skin.

Recipe: To make your own bergamot mixture, try combining 3 drops of bergamot with 3 drops of ylang ylang in a one-ounce bottle of your favorite carrier oil, use as an invigorating, all-natural perfume.

Feeling foggy and groggy? We’ve got oils for that!

Rosemary is more than just a superstar culinary herb, it’s also an exceptional brain and nerve tonic. Studies have shown significant correlation between a quick sniff of the oil and boosted neural activity. It’s often used in students to help increase concentration and can also fight against forgetfulness. As a winter wonder-oil, it also increases the strength of your immune system, reduces cortisol levels in the body (helping to decrease chronic stress) and also helps to fight against allergies.

Recipe: Mix 3 drops of rosemary oil with 1/2 of unscented lotion. Rub on your chest and the back of your neck to help increase neural function throughout the day.

Fight allergies with an all-natural defense

Commonly suggested by ancient Greek physician Dioscorides to help fight phlegm, hyssop is a natural expectorant, meaning it keeps the respiratory system warm and fights against the infections due to common colds. It’s also a good tonic for the nervous system and stimulates the body’s metabolism and circulatory system. If there’s a bug going around in your social circle, a bit of hyssop could help fight against the onset of viral infections. Warning it should be avoided by those suffering from epilepsy or those who may be pregnant due to its stimulating nature.

Recipe: Mix 5 drops of hyssop and 5 drops of eucalyptus essential oils with a common chest rub for a supercharged decongestant.

Keep dry, cracked, winter skin at bay

Frankincense oil has countless benefits – we may even go so far as to call it the holy grail of essential oils. Although it has common religious and ancient associations, it’s actually also really great for your skin. It helps lift and tone the skin, reduces scarring and promotes elasticity in the skin and the regeneration of healthy cells. All of this makes it the perfect solution to healing dry and painful winter skin.

Recipe: Mix six drops of oil to an ounce of your favorite lotion (or get an unscented one if you don’t want aromatic clashing) and give yourself a nice, moisturizing massage.

All information and resources provided are based on the opinions and experiences of the author, unless otherwise noted. Information is intended to encourage readers to do their own research and come to their own conclusions, and should never substitute or replace the recommendations of a qualified healthcare provider. Always consult your physician before making changes to your diet, exercise, or general wellness plan, even when using holistic methods.

Why You Need to Be Thinking About Your Future Health Now

Humans are creatures of habit. We like routines. We enjoy knowing what to expect, without getting overly comfortable to the point of drudgery. Our eating, exercise, and general health habits are no exception. If you can get used to working out now, you’re more likely to continue that trend as you get older. If you learn to enjoy fruit and only occasionally indulge in chocolate cake, that’s something you won’t have to change when you get older.

In other words, one of the key reasons for developing your health habits now is that it cuts down on the work of having to change those habits later. But that’s just one of the things you can do. Many studies have shown a direct correlation between poverty in childhood and health outcomes later in life. That means you start laying the foundation for your health in childhood, and it never stops.

sneakers on stairs

unsplash-logo Bruno Nascimento

Looking Ahead

At any point in your life, you’re probably considering the future. When you’re a child or a teenager, the future is relatively short-term. It might relate to the play date you have after naptime, or the homecoming dance that’s coming up next month. The older you get, the further you start to look ahead. Late in high school, college applications and work, or both, become your reality. You have to plan how to manage those, and your personal health often falls by the wayside.

Once you start to establish yourself, your attention often turns to the next big rite of passage: finding a partner. Then, it turns to children, because even if you decide not to have them, you must still have a serious discussion. These life decisions tend to upset the comfortable balance you’ve created between work and leisure, and often help disturb any healthy habits you’ve managed to develop during the calmer periods.

At some point, most people start looking to the future. Especially when you start having kids, the future suddenly becomes more important and seems to be rushing toward you a lot faster. You probably think about retirement, college savings for kids, or major purchases such as a car or home. You may not be thinking about your health, though, and that’s a mistake.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 33 percent of men and 50 percent of women over 75 engage in no physical activity at all. As soon as you stop moving daily, health problems start setting in. Exercise isn’t just a weight-loss tool or a way to look good. It’s a vital aspect of longevity. The recommendations don’t change, even for seniors. A minimum of 30 minutes a day of cardiovascular activity is recommended for everyone, no matter how old you are.

Health’s Cumulative Effects

Eating one cheeseburger every two months isn’t enough to take a serious toll on your health. It takes a combined effect of long-term poor dietary choices and a sedentary lifestyle. There is no way to avoid all the risk factors for everything. Some people are just more likely to develop heart disease than others, but you can take steps now to reduce your likelihood later in life.

Most chronic diseases that are associated with age, including Type II diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and even dementia are the result of long-term decisions, not occasional splurges.

Skin is a good example. Up to 25 percent of the sun damage we get occurs by the time we turn 18. While there’s plenty of time to acquire more sun damage, that’s a pretty significant amount of damage to get at a very young age. Even just one or two severe sunburns in childhood can increase your risk of skin cancer. That alone should demonstrate just how important your choices today are.

Shaping Tomorrow, Today

You won’t have a chance to go back 10 years and develop healthier habits. You can, however, think about what you want your future life to look like, and take steps toward that today. Most people want things like travel, excitement, and financial security, but all those things fall apart with poor health. It’ll eat up your savings, and it will diminish your ability to travel or even help your family.

Your health choices, today, will determine the opportunities you have later in life. You don’t have to suddenly switch to an all-star, pro athlete’s diet and workout routine. For most people, that would be a fast way to get injured! Small changes are your best option. Start eating one salad a day. Stop eating in front of the TV.

3 Breathing Exercises for Calm and Clarity

For centuries, we have known about the powerful connection between our breath and our mental state. While the yogis and healers of ancient days didn’t have any peer-reviewed research to back up their claims, they consistently used the breath, and mindful breathing practices, to center themselves. Through conscious breath, we can shift ourselves into a state of calm, clarity, and focus.

To breathe is far more than the physiological need for oxygen—it is the essence of life, the power to call something forth, the tingling undercurrent of our collective consciousness. And in addition to all these things, it is a powerful tool that we can mindfully manipulate to our healing advantage. Because our breath is so intricately linked to our other physiological functions and our mental state, when we focus on the breath, we can influence a multitude of other bodily responses: heart rate, blood pressure, digestion rate, inflammation, and cognition to name just a few.

man meditating outside
Photo by Pixabay

Enter the powerful yogic technique(s) of pranayama. This word is a combination of the two Sanskrit words, “prana” the universal life force/energy, and “yama” meaning to control. So in its very essence, pranayama is the way that we can control and manipulate our energy and life force with our breath. It’s been said that emotion = energy in motion, so it’s easy to see that our emotions and our breath are entwined.

Next time you find yourself getting worked up, or on the verge of panic, give one of these exercises a try!

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)

This is called the channel-clearing (nadi= channel, shodhana= cleaning, purifying) breath. It’s said to balance the left and right sides of the brain, promote blood oxygenation, and calm the emotions.

Bring your hand up to your nose, using your thumb to gently close your right nostril.

Inhale fully through your left nostril, then use your ring and/or pinky finger to gently close the left nostril as you exhale through the right nostril.

Leave the right nostril open as you take another full, slow inhale. Then again use your thumb to close the right nostril as you exhale through the left.

You can repeat this for as long as you like, and if you find your arm gets tired, you can either switch hands or find a pillow or bolster to prop up your elbow.

Three-Part Breathing (Deerga Swasam)

This technique is referred to as the complete breath (deerga= complete, full, swasam= breath) because it fills up all the available space in our bodies in a sequential manner. It is an antidote to shallow or scattered breathing.

I’ve found that this technique is easier to do while lying flat on the floor or on a bed. It also helps to place your palms flat on your abdomen to really connect with where the air is going.

From there, it’s really quite simple:

On your inhale, first send the air deep into your abdomen, filling up your belly first. Then continuing that same inhale, next fill your ribcage, feeling your sides expand into your hands, and finally fill your chest to make a full and complete breath. Just be careful not to pull in too much air or strain in any way- this is meant to be a comfortably full breath.

On the exhale, simply reverse the process. Drain the air first from your chest, then your ribs, and lastly your belly, tightening it slightly to push out the air completely. Then start the cycle over again.

happy girl in the sun
Photo by Pixabay

Squared/Four-Part Breathing

This technique was the first pranayama practice I’d ever encountered, and I’ve used it countless times over the years. It can be kind of challenging at first, but is great for slowing down the mind giving an anxious brain something to focus on.

Basically, it is exactly what it sounds like: each section of the breath is even, meaning the inhale, the exhale, and the pauses between each, are timed equally.

To begin, count slowly with your breath like this:

Inhale, 2, 3, 4

Hold the inhale (top of the breath), 2, 3, 4

Exhale, 2, 3, 4

Hold the exhale (bottom of the breath) 2, 3, 4

And repeat for several minutes. As you become more proficient over time, you can increase the count to 6 or 8 if you can tolerate it comfortably. You may also use a visual aid with this practice—hold or look at something square and trace the edges with each part of the breath.

These three examples are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to pranayama, but they are some of the easiest ones to master, and can offer relief from acute anxiety, stress, and fatigue.

Remember, our breath is our way to control our life force/energy and you can make a conscious choice to create the way you want to feel right here, right now.


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Sengupta, P. (2012). Health impacts of yoga and pranayama: A state-of-the-art review. International journal of preventive medicine, 3(7), 444.

Kinabalu, K. (2005). Immediate effect of ‘nadi-shodhana pranayama’on some selected parameters of cardiovascular, pulmonary, and higher functions of brain. Thai journal of physiological sciences, 18(2), 10-16.

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Melani Schweder is a Certified Health Coach and Reiki Master/Teacher based in Denver, Colorado. She’s dedicated to helping people heal their lives through natural medicine, holistic nutrition, and mindful self-care. You can connect with her and get started on your own healing adventure at A Brighter Wild.