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10 Breathing Techniques for Stress Relief and More

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Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. This is because when you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to your body. Those things that happen when you are stressed, such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure, all decrease as you breathe deeply to relax.

  • The way you breathe affects your whole body. Breathing exercises are a good way to relax, reduce tension, and relieve stress.
  • Breathing exercises are easy to learn. You can do them whenever you want, and you don’t need any special tools or equipment to do them.
  • You can do different exercises to see which works best for you.

How do you do breathing exercises?

There are lots of breathing exercises you can do to help relax. The first exercise below—belly breathing—is simple to learn and easy to do. It’s best to start there if you have never done breathing exercises before. The other exercises are more advanced. All of these exercises can help you relax and relieve stress.

Belly breathing

Belly breathing is easy to do and very relaxing. Try this basic exercise anytime you need to relax or relieve stress.

  • Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position.
  • Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest.
  • Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let your belly push your hand out. Your chest should not move.
  • Breathe out through pursed lips as if you were whistling. Feel the hand on your belly go in, and use it to push all the air out.
  • Do this breathing 3 to 10 times. Take your time with each breath.
  • Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.

Next steps

After you have mastered belly breathing, you may want to try one of these more advanced breathing exercises. Try all three, and see which one works best for you:

  • 4-7-8 breathing
  • Roll breathing
  • Morning breathing

4-7-8 breathing

This exercise also uses belly breathing to help you relax. You can do this exercise either sitting or lying down.

  • To start, put one hand on your belly and the other on your chest as in the belly breathing exercise.
  • Take a deep, slow breath from your belly, and silently count to 4 as you breathe in.
  • Hold your breath, and silently count from 1 to 7.
  • Breathe out completely as you silently count from 1 to 8. Try to get all the air out of your lungs by the time you count to 8.
  • Repeat 3 to 7 times or until you feel calm.
  • Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.

Roll breathing

Roll breathing helps you to develop full use of your lungs and to focus on the rhythm of your breathing. You can do it in any position. But while you are learning, it is best to lie on your back with your knees bent.

  • Put your left hand on your belly and your right hand on your chest. Notice how your hands move as you breathe in and out.
  • Practice filling your lower lungs by breathing so that your “belly” (left) hand goes up when you inhale and your “chest” (right) hand remains still. Always breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth. Do this 8 to 10 times.
  • When you have filled and emptied your lower lungs 8 to 10 times, add the second step to your breathing: inhale first into your lower lungs as before, and then continue inhaling into your upper chest. Breathe slowly and regularly. As you do so, your right hand will rise and your left hand will fall a little as your belly falls.
  • As you exhale slowly through your mouth, make a quiet, whooshing sound as first your left hand and then your right-hand fall. As you exhale, feel the tension leaving your body as you become more and more relaxed.
  • Practice breathing in and out in this way for 3 to 5 minutes. Notice that the movement of your belly and chest rises and falls like the motion of rolling waves.
  • Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.
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Practice roll breathing daily for several weeks until you can do it almost anywhere. You can use it as an instant relaxation tool anytime you need one.

Caution: Some people get dizzy the first few times they try roll breathing. If you begin to breathe too fast or feel lightheaded, slow your breathing. Get up slowly.

Morning breathing

Try this exercise when you first get up in the morning to relieve muscle stiffness and clear clogged breathing passages. Then use it throughout the day to relieve back tension.

  • From a standing position, bend forward from the waist with your knees slightly bent, letting your arms dangle close to the floor.
  • As you inhale slowly and deeply, return to a standing position by rolling up slowly, lifting your head last.
  • Hold your breath for just a few seconds in this standing position.
  • Exhale slowly as you return to the original position, bending forward from the waist.
  • Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.

10 Breathing Techniques for Stress Relief and More

If you’re interested in trying breathing exercises to reduce stress or anxiety or improve your lung function, we’ve got 10 different ones to sample. You may find that certain exercises appeal to you right away. Start with those so that the practice is more enjoyable.

How to add breathing exercises to your day

Breathing exercises don’t have to take a lot of time out of your day. It’s really just about setting aside some time to pay attention to your breathing. Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Begin with just 5 minutes a day, and increase your time as the exercise becomes easier and more comfortable.
  • If 5 minutes feels too long, start with just 2 minutes.
  • Practice multiple times a day. Schedule set times or practice conscious breathing as you feel the need.

1. Pursed lip breathing

This simple breathing technique makes you slow down your pace of breathing by having you apply deliberate effort in each breath.

You can practice pursed-lip breathing at any time. It may be especially useful during activities such as bending, lifting, or stair climbing.

Practice using this breath 4 to 5 times a day when you begin in order to correctly learn the breathing pattern.

To do it:

  • Relax your neck and shoulders.
  • Keeping your mouth closed, inhale slowly through your nose for 2 counts.
  • Pucker or purse your lips as though you were going to whistle.
  • Exhale slowly by blowing air through your pursed lips for a count of 4.

2. Diaphragmatic breathing

Belly breathing can help you use your diaphragm properly. Do belly breathing exercises when you’re feeling relaxed and rested.

Practice diaphragmatic breathing for 5 to 10 minutes 3 to 4 times per day.

When you begin you may feel tired, but over time the technique should become easier and should feel more natural.

To do it:

  • Lie on your back with your knees slightly bent and your head on a pillow.
  • You may place a pillow under your knees for support.
  • Place one hand on your upper chest and one hand below your rib cage, allowing you to feel the movement of your diaphragm.
  • Slowly inhale through your nose, feeling your stomach pressing into your hand.
  • Keep your other hand as still as possible.
  • Exhale using pursed lips as you tighten your stomach muscles, keeping your upper hand completely still.
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You can place a book on your abdomen to make the exercise more difficult. Once you learn how to do belly breathing lying down you can increase the difficulty by trying it while sitting in a chair. You can then practice the technique while performing your daily activities.

3. Breath focus technique

This deep breathing technique uses imagery or focuses words and phrases.

You can choose a focus word that makes you smile, feel relaxed, or that is simply neutral to think about. Examples include peacelet go, or relaxation, but it can be any word that suits you to focus on and repeat through your practice.

As you build up your breath focus practice you can start with a 10-minute session. Gradually increase the duration until your sessions are at least 20 minutes.

To do it:

  • Sit or lie down in a comfortable place.
  • Bring your awareness to your breaths without trying to change how you’re breathing.
  • Alternate between normal and deep breaths a few times. Notice any differences between normal breathing and deep breathing. Notice how your abdomen expands with deep inhalations.
  • Note how shallow breathing feels compared to deep breathing.
  • Practice your deep breathing for a few minutes.
  • Place one hand below your belly button, keeping your belly relaxed, and notice how it rises with each inhale and falls with each exhale.
  • Let out a loud sigh with each exhale.
  • Begin the practice of breath focus by combining this deep breathing with imagery and a focus word or phrase that will support relaxation.
  • You can imagine that the air you inhale brings waves of peace and calm throughout your body. Mentally say, “Inhaling peace and calm.”
  • Imagine that the air you exhale washes away tension and anxiety. You can say to yourself, “Exhaling tension and anxiety.”

4. Lion’s breath

Lion’s breath is an energizing yoga breathing practice that is said to relieve tension in your chest and face.

It’s also known in yoga as Lion’s Pose or simhasana in Sanskrit.

To do this:

  • Come into a comfortable seated position. You can sit back on your heels or cross your legs.
  • Press your palms against your knees with your fingers spread wide.
  • Inhale deeply through your nose and open your eyes wide.
  • At the same time, open your mouth wide and stick out your tongue, bringing the tip down toward your chin.
  • Contract the muscles at the front of your throat as you exhale out through your mouth by making a long “ha” sound.
  • You can turn your gaze to look at the space between your eyebrows or the tip of your nose.
  • Do this breath 2 to 3 times.

5. Alternate nostril breathing

Alternate nostril breathing, known as Nadi shodhana pranayama in Sanskrit, is a breathing practice for relaxation.

Alternate nostril breathing has been shown to enhance cardiovascular function and to lower heart rate.

Nadi shodhana is best practiced on an empty stomach. Avoid the practice if you’re feeling sick or congested. Keep your breath smooth and even throughout the practice.

To do this:

  • Choose a comfortable seated position.
  • Lift up your right hand toward your nose, pressing your first and middle fingers down toward your palm and leaving your other fingers extended.
  • After an exhale, use your right thumb to gently close your right nostril.
  • Inhale through your left nostril and then close your left nostril with your right pinky and ring fingers.
  • Release your thumb and exhale out through your right nostril.
  • Inhale through your right nostril and then close this nostril.
  • Release your fingers to open your left nostril and exhale through this side.
  • This is one cycle.
  • Continue this breathing pattern for up to 5 minutes.
  • Finish your session with an exhale on the left side.

6. Equal breathing

Equal breathing is known as sama vritti in Sanskrit. This breathing technique focuses on making your inhales and exhales the same length. Making your breath smooth and steady can help bring about balance and equanimity.

You should find a breath length that is not too easy and not too difficult. You also want it to be too fast, so that you’re able to maintain it throughout the practice. Usually, this is between 3 and 5 counts.

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Once you get used to equal breathing while seated you can do it during your yoga practice or other daily activities.

To do it:

  • Choose a comfortable seated position.
  • Breathe in and out through your nose.
  • Count during each inhale and exhale to make sure they are even in duration. Alternatively, choose a word or short phrase to repeat during each inhale and exhale.
  • You can add a slight pause or breath retention after each inhale and exhale if you feel comfortable. (Normal breathing involves a natural pause.)
  • Continue practicing this breath for at least 5 minutes.

7. Resonant or coherent breathing

Resonant breathing, also known as coherent breathing, is when you breathe at a rate of 5 full breaths per minute. You can achieve this rate by inhaling and exhaling for a count of 5.

Breathing at this rate maximizes your heart rate variability (HRV), reduces stress, and, according to one 2017 study, can reduce symptoms of depression when combined with Iyengar yoga.

To do this:

  1. Inhale for a count of 5.
  2. Exhale for a count of 5.
  3. Continue this breathing pattern for at least a few minutes.

8. Sitali breath

This yoga breathing practice helps you lower your body temperature and relax your mind.

Slightly extend your breath in length but don’t force it. Since you inhale through your mouth during Sitali breath, you may want to choose a place to practice that’s free of any allergens that affect you and air pollution.

To do this:

  • Choose a comfortable seated position.
  • Stick out your tongue and curl your tongue to bring the outer edges together.
  • If your tongue doesn’t do this, you can pursue your lips.
  • Inhale through your mouth.
  • Exhale out through your nose.
  • Continue breathing like this for up to 5 minutes

9. Deep breathing

Deep breathing helps to relieve shortness of breath by preventing air from getting trapped in your lungs and helping you to breathe in the more fresh air. It may help you to feel more relaxed and centered.

To do this:

  • While standing or sitting, draw your elbows back slightly to allow your chest to expand.
  • Take a deep inhalation through your nose.
  • Retain your breath for a count of 5.
  • Slowly release your breath by exhaling through your nose.
10. Humming bee breath (bhramari)

The unique sensation of this yoga breathing practice helps to create an instant calm and is especially soothing around your forehead. Some people use humming bee breaths to relieve frustration, anxiety, and anger. Of course, you’ll want to practice it in a place where you are free to make a humming sound.

To do this

  • Choose a comfortable seated position.
  • Close your eyes and relax your face.
  • Place your first fingers on the tragus cartilage that partially covers your ear canal.
  • Inhale, and as you exhale gently press your fingers into the cartilage.
  • Keeping your mouth closed, make a loud humming sound.
  • Continue for as long as is comfortable.

You can try most of these breath exercises right away. Take the time to experiment with different types of breathing techniques. Dedicate a certain amount of time at least a few times per week. You can do these exercises throughout the day.

Check-in with your doctor if you have any medical concerns or take any medications. If you want to learn more about breathing practices you can consult a respiratory therapist or a yoga teacher who specializes in breathing practices. Discontinue the practice if you experience any feelings of discomfort or agitation.

References

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