From the moment we take that first breath, we keep breathing until we stop for good. As with fitness, deep breathing exercises can actually promote health and relaxation. Ready to destress? Learn more—plus, find two simple breathing exercises.
Breathing happens automatically and most of us rarely think about it, until we come down with a respiratory ailment or find ourselves puffing with exertion.
Practice Breathing for Stress Relief
Yet focused and deliberate attention to proper breathing is an ancient stress-relieving, health promoting technique. What’s more, it’s free, and doesn’t require equipment or professional help.
Breathing techniques that have formed an important aspect of eastern spiritual practices for centuries have been incorporated into modern mindfulness practices, as well as into programs for managing anger, stress, panic disorder, chronic anxiety, and pain. Athletes, singers, and wind instrumentalists also benefit from breath-training programs.
How to Breathe Deeply
Aside from regular breathing practice, I find a minute of mindful breathing helps restore a balanced perspective, whenever I feel a surge of anger, fear, or anxiety. What a great technique! My breath is always at the ready, costs nothing, and hey! If I’m in a crowd, nobody has to know I’m using it. After all, everybody’s breathing.
Many people breathe shallowly, using only the upper portion of their lungs.
Learning to breathe deeply from the abdomen, strengthening the diaphragm, the muscular wall that separates the chest and abdominal cavities, maintains the proper oxygen-carbon dioxide ratio in the blood. It will also help prevent hyperventilation (sometimes called “overbreathing”), a main cause of anxiety attacks.
Here’s a good primer on learning to breathe from the diaphragm (sometimes also called “belly-breathing”).
Simple Breathing Exercise 1
In this breathing exercise, will inhale once but in three parts, and then you will exhale once but also in three parts.
- Breathe in through your nose and fill up your belly like a balloon
- Fill the rib cage; feel each and every space in-between the ribs become wider
- Finish by filling up the upper chest
- Release through your nose from your chest
- Feel the rib cage become tighter and the spaces in between the ribs become smaller
- Use your abdominal muscles to push out the stagnant air at the bottom of your belly
After you understand how it works, try 10 to 15 breaths a day. Work your way up to 20 to 25 breaths.
Simple Breathing Exercise 2
In this breathing exercise, you will focus on calming your breath and mind.
- Smooth – Start to slow down the breath, allow it to become soft without any jerk or pauses
- Even – same number of counts in and same number of counts out
- Interconnect – Create an easy transition between the inhales and exhales; just as if the breath were a Ferris Wheel, as you inhale the breath rides up and as you shift you naturally fall into the exhale and ride the Ferris Wheel down
More on Breathing Benefits
Do you breathe through your nose or your mouth. Here’s information on the benefits of learning to breathe in through your nose. If you’ve been a chest-and/or-mouth-breather for awhile, it might take time to master these breathing techniques. Keep practicing a few minutes each day.
If you search the Web, you’ll find many articles, research reports, and how-to videos on breathing and specific breathing techniques to improve physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Try these three:
- The Breathing Space (Jon Kabat Zinn)
- Instructions on the Breath (Jon Kabat Zinn)
- Three Breathing Exercises (Dr. Andrew Weil)
You may also discover local groups and programs that focus on breathing and other techniques to help people manage stress.