Spence also recommends that people with OCD try a slow breath practice, known as pranayama. Because you have to keep your attention on the breath, these exercises may prevent unhelpful thoughts from intruding, says Spence. Research has also shown that breathwork can help calm the nervous system and help reduce anxiety.
A good one to start with is alternate nostril breathing, or nadi shodhana. “This breath is calming and peaceful, but it’s complicated enough that it requires your focus on what you’re doing,” Spence says.
Begin by sitting up straight and closing your eyes. Make a loose fist with your right hand, then release your thumb and last two fingers. Gently press the right thumb over your right nostril to close it off, while you exhale slowly through the left nostril, counting to four, five, or even more. Inhale slowly through the left nostril, taking about half the time as the prior exhalation. Now release your thumb and close your left nostril with your ring finger. Exhale through the right nostril to a slow count again. Inhale through the right nostril.
Continue alternating exhales and inhales through the various sides of the nose for several minutes, eventually working up to 5 or 10 minutes.
A similar breathing practice, but using only the left nostril to inhale and exhale and for a longer period of time, was part of a small pilot study documenting how Kundalini yoga exercises help people with OCD, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine.
What’s so perfect about trying these exercises is that you can do them anywhere, anytime. Give them a go when your symptoms are well-managed. That way, you’ll have the routine down when you want to try them in the moment.