Have you ever let out a deep breath and instantly felt better? There's a simple reason why. This sends a signal to your brain that it's time to calm down and relax. As a result, this reduces tension and relieves stress in a matter of minutes. In fact, breathing exercises are so effective that they've practiced for centuries.
With that in mind, the next time you feel anxious or stressed out, try these seven simple breathing exercises to help calm you down quickly.
1. Belly Breathing Exercise
1. Place one hand just above your belt line, and the other on your chest, right over the breastbone. You can use your hands as a simple biofeedback device. Your hands will tell you what part of your body, and what muscles, you are using to breathe.
2. Open your mouth and gently sigh, as if someone had just told you something really annoying. As you do, let your shoulders and the muscles of your upper body relax, down, with the exhale. The point of the sigh is not to completely empty your lungs. It's just to relax the muscles of your upper body.
3. Close your mouth and pause for a few seconds.
4. Keep your mouth closed and inhale slowly through your nose by pushing your stomach out. The movement of your stomach precedes the inhalation by just the tiniest fraction of a second, because it's this motion which is pulling the air in. When you've inhaled as much air as you can comfortably (without throwing your upper body into it), just stop. You're finished with that inhale.
5. Pause. How long? You decide. I'm not going to give you a specific count, because everybody counts at a different rate, and everybody has different size lungs. Pause briefly for whatever time feels comfortable. However, be aware that when you breathe this way, you are taking larger breaths than you're used to. For this reason, it's necessary to breathe more slowly than you're used to. If you breathe at the same rate you use with your small, shallow breaths, you will probably feel a little lightheaded from over breathing, and it might make you yawn. Neither is harmful. They're just signals to slow down. Follow them!
6. Open your mouth. Exhale through your mouth by pulling your belly in.
8. Continue with Steps 4-7.
2. The 4-7-8 (or Relaxing Breath) Exercise
The 4-7-8 breathing exercise is utterly simple, takes almost no time, requires no equipment and can be done anywhere. Although you can do the exercise in any position, sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.
Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
Hold your breath for a count of seven.
Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Note that with this breathing technique, you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.
This breathing exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it, but gains in power with repetition and practice. Do it at least twice a day. You cannot do it too frequently. Do not do more than four breaths at one time for the first month of practice. Later, if you wish, you can extend it to eight breaths. If you feel a little lightheaded when you first breathe this way, do not be concerned; it will pass.
Once you develop this technique by practicing it every day, it will be a very useful tool that you will always have with you. Use it whenever anything upsetting happens – before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension or stress. Use it to help you fall asleep. This exercise cannot be recommended too highly. Everyone can benefit from it.
3. 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.
4. Sama Vritti or “Equal Breathing”
This breathing exercise is especially effective before bed. According to yoga instructor Rebecca Pacheco, it works similarly to counting sheep.
“If you’re having trouble falling asleep, this breath can help take your mind off the racing thoughts or whatever might be distracting you,” she says.
How to do it: Begin by sitting or lying down in a comfortable position. Your eyes can be open or closed. Inhale for 4 counts, and then exhale for 4 counts.
All inhalations and exhalations should be made through your nose, which adds a slight, natural resistance to your breath. Once you get these basics down, try 6–8 counts per breath.
5. Coherent Breathing
Coherent breathing is basically breathing at a rate of five breaths per minute, which is the middle of the resonant breathing rate range. I achieve this if I count to five inhaling and count to five exhaling. The five-minute rate maximizes the heart rate variability (HRV), a measurement of how well the parasympathetic nervous system is working. Brown and Gerbarg explain that changing our rate and pattern of breath alters the HRV, which causes shifts in our nervous system. The higher the HRV the better because a higher HRV is associated with a healthier cardiovascular system and a stronger stress-response system. Breathing at a rate that is close to one’s ideal resonant rate (around five breaths per minute) can induce up to a tenfold improvement in HRV.
6. Progressive Relaxation or Progressive Muscle Relaxation
You can do this almost anywhere as long as you are sitting comfortably. To dispel tension from your muscles, close your eyes and focus on tensing then relaxing each of the following muscle groups for two to three seconds—all the while maintaining deep and slow breaths.Try this:
- Start with the feet and toes
- Move up to calves, knees, thighs, and buttocks
- Continue with the stomach and then back (separately)
- Tense and relax your chest followed by your arms and hands
- Finish with your neck, then jaw and lastly your eyes
7. Lion's Breath
Lion’s breath involves exhaling forcefully. To try lion’s breath:
Get into a kneeling position, crossing your ankles and resting your bottom on your feet. If this position isn’t comfortable, sit cross-legged.
Bring your hands to your knees, stretching out your arms and your fingers.
Take a breath in through your nose.
Breathe out through your mouth, allowing yourself to vocalize “ha.”
During exhale, open your mouth as wide as you can and stick your tongue out, stretching it down toward your chin as far as it will go.
Focus on the middle of your forehead (third eye) or the end of your nose while exhaling.
Relax your face as you inhale again.
Repeat the practice up to.