8 Breathing exercises to help reduce stress

Deep breathing helps calm

Try these 8 Breathing Exercises below to help you relax, manage stress and live a healthy life!

Take time to Breathe

The body needs fresh oxygen to function effectively. The best way to keep fresh oxygen flowing into the body is deep breathing but most of us only use the top third of our lungs. So by breathing in and allowing the abdomen to inflate, means as much fresh air as possible will fill your lungs.

These simple yet effective breathing exercises below will help guide and show you how simple it is to start using your full lung capacity and fill your body with oxygen.

The more oxygen you get in, the more tension and anxiety will decrease, the cause of possible anxiety does not go but once the tension is released and you are thinking clearer you will feel better able to cope with the core problem.

Perfect for Meditation or Yoga!

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Equal Breathing exercises or Sama Vritti

This breathing exercise works anytime, any place but is really effective before bed. By concentrating on your breathing it will take your mind off of the competing thoughts in your head which can end up disturbing your sleep.

Exercise 1

  • Slowly inhale through the nose for a count of four, then exhale through the nose for a count of four. The nose gives a natural resistance to the breath.
  • When you feel comfortable with the count of four then aim for six, then eight counts.
  • The aim is to calm the nervous system, reduce stress and increase the focus.

Exercise 2

Try this simple but effective breathing exercise..

  • Sit up tall on a straight back chair, shoulder’s down, feet flat on the floor and the hands relaxed in your lap or better still laid on the abdomen.
  • Slowly breath in, your hands should rise as the abdomen inflates by concentrating on this in breath you should feel the lungs fill with oxygen, the chest should hardly move.
  • Hold for a count of three and then slowly let the breath out feeling the lungs deflate and the abdomen fall.
  • Do not force the breath let the reflexes of the body control the action.
  • This exercise can be done almost anywhere and even if it is for just a couple of minutes you should feel the benefits.

Exercise 3

This same exercise can also be done lying flat on the floor and is more relaxing:

  • Lie straight legs hip width apart, feet falling to the side.
  • The hands just lying on the abdomen.
  • Gently push chin towards the chest.
  • Again on the in breath feel the abdomen rise and the hands will lift, feel the lungs inflate, the chest should not rise  as you breath in .
  • Hold for the count of three and as you breath out allow the lips to part and let the breath pass through the lips, do not force the breath out just let the body function naturally.
  • Try to do this sequence for five minutes.

By concentrating on the breathing and feeling the breath bring  fresh oxygen to the body will also allow the mind time to think of something other than the problems that are causing the stress.

Humming Breath

Exercise 4

A variation on the seated breathing exercise 2 above is to make a humming sound as you exhale, keep the sound going for as long as possible whilst the breath is being expelled from the body, pull the stomach muscles in so all the air is pushed out.

Relax just breathing normally for five breaths then repeat sequence for three minutes.

If you experience any light-headedness then stop the exercise.

Pranayama Breathing exercise

This breathing exercise requires a greater concentration and is also a cleansing breath.

Exercise 5

  • Sitting on a straight back chair tall and upright, feel like there is a cord pulling from the top of your head to the ceiling.
  • Place your feet flat on the floor.
  • Lay you hands in your lap.
  • Breath in and out allowing the abdomen to raise on the in breath and lower on the out breath, three times.
  • Then place the thumb of the right hand on the right side nostril closing the nostril.
  • Breath in and out slowly and evenly though the left hand nostril five times.
  • Lower the right hand to the lap and breath three times through both nostrils.
  • Now place the left thumb on the left hand nostril closing the left nostril.
  • Slowing and evenly breath in and out of the right nostril five times.
  • Lower the left hand to your lap and breath slowly and evenly through both nostrils.
  • Repeat this sequence for five minutes, concentrating on the breath.

Chinese Breath Exercise

For the older person this exercise must be done seated to avoid hyperventilation.

Exercise 6

  • Take three short inhalations, through the nose, do not exhale in between.
  • On the first inhalation raise the arms are lifted from your side to shoulder height and in front of you.
  • The arms are lifted to the side at shoulder height on the second breath in.
  • On the third inhalation the arms are lifted up over the head, straight up.
  • Exhale and the arms are brought down in an arc to your side.
  • Repeat this ten to twelve times.
  • Stop this exercise if any lightheadedness is experienced.

Counting Relaxation – The  4-7-8 method

Dr. Andrew Weil, a Harvard trained medical doctor believes that breathing can influence our thought processes including our moods.

He believes that by focusing on the breath you can move towards relaxation. His well known  “Relaxing Breath, the 4 – 7 – 8  method” can promote better sleep.

Exercise 7

This exercise is another form of Pranayama Breathing and if practiced before bed can aid a good nights sleep.

  • Exhale through your mouth, making a whoosh sound making sure you completely emptying your lungs.
  • With your mouth closed, inhale through your nose for a count of four.
  • For a count of seven hold your breath.
  • Then exhale completely through your mouth making the whoosh sound for a count of eight.
  • This sequence is one breath, repeat the cycle a total of four times.

Dr. Weil believes that by holding the breath allows the oxygen to circulate through the body and produce a relaxing effect in the body.

With practice over time this should become more effective with sleep and dealing with anxiety and stress.

Skull Shining Breathing Technique

Exercise 8

This is another Pranayama breathing exercise but is more powerful compared to other breathing exercises. Regular practice can promote the release of toxins from our bodies detoxifying the system and the obvious sign of a healthy body is a shining forehead.

  • With a straight spine but sitting comfortably and your hands in your lap, palms open upwards.
  • Inhale deeply.
  • When you exhale pull your abdominal muscles in as much as you comfortable can, bringing the naval towards the spine. The right hand can be placed on the stomach to feel the contraction of the muscles.
  • When the naval and abdomen relaxes the in breath is taken automatically filling your lungs.
  • This is a sequence and should be done 20 times to complete a cycle.
  • On completion of the cycle sit quietly with your eyes softly closed.
  • A total of three cycles of the Shining Skull Pranayama completes the practice.

Kapal Bhati Pranayama ( Shining Skull ) has an active exhalation by forcing the breath out through the mouth the abdominal muscles can be pulled in. The inhalation just happens as the tautness in the stomach is released. Keep your awareness on the outward breath.

Practice of this exercise should be done on an empty stomach. Women should not practice these breathing exercises during their menstrual cycle or during and shortly after pregnancy due to the strong abdominal squeeze.

Persons suffering with a slipped disc, epilepsy, hernia, fitted with a stent or pacemaker, recent abdominal surgery all should avoid this exercise without first consulting your GP.

If you suffer from hypertension or have heart problems then seek a yoga expert’s guidance before practicing this breathing exercise.

There are many benefits from the practice of this Pranayama , it can help with increasing the metabolism, useful for diabetes suffers as it stimulates the abdominal organs, improves blood circulation, improves the function of the digestive tract, energises the nervous system as well as calming the mind.

To Conclude

Breathing is a skill that we all need to learn and with practice it comes, if you use these breathing exercises combined with focusing on relaxing your tense muscles it will help diminish stress and anxiety.

Alternatives to get you started

If you find the breathing exercises above a little too challenging to start with there’s a really simple App for your phone called Breathing Zone There are no complicated settings and no difficult breathing patterns to master. All you need to do is breathe in and out according to the guide.

If you’d like to delve deeper and read more about this subject here’s links to couple of great books we recommend…

The Breathing Book: Vitality and Good Health Through Essential Breath Work – by Donna Farhi

Light on Pranayama: The Definitive Guide to the Art of Breathing

Calm Happy Healthy

We exist to do all we can to help make life a richer, more inspiring and enjoyable experience, for you our reader. By aiming to help you realise that you have the power and ability to change what needs to be changed to improve your health, state of mind, diet, energy levels, reduce stress and do your bit to help look after the environment. Live a Calmer, Happier and Healthier life.

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  • What a great and well-explained list of breathing exercises! Great list and good information.

    • Thank you Karen! That's the type of feedback we love! :)

      Just incase you missed it, if you would like to download them as a pdf to print & follow, there's a form in the post. Just pop your email in there and we'll send it straight over.

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