The demands of modern life often feel overwhelming. During a stressful day, you may find yourself tensing your shoulders or holding your breath. But breathing may be all you need to do to find relief. In fact, practicing some simple breathing techniques for just a few minutes a day can help you relieve stress and tension.
Ongoing stress can suppress the immune system and make your body more susceptible to the common cold and other health disorders. Stress can affect your mental health and even contribute to the onset of depression or anxiety. Luckily, the power of deep breathing exercises can help provide many physical and mental health benefits.
Here are a few breathing techniques to help you relieve stress fast and improve your health.
1. Deep Abdominal Breathing
This basic breathing technique is responsible for enabling full oxygen exchange, which can help slow your heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure.
How to exercise deep abdominal breathing: Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position. Put one hand on the abdominal area just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest. Next, take a deep breath in through your nose while allowing your abdomen to push your hand up.
Breathe out through pursed lips. Use the hand on your abdomen to help push all the air out. Repeat this process approximately 3 to 10 times.
Alternatively, once you have mastered the basics of deep abdominal breathing, you may choose to practice a more advanced form of the breathing technique called “4-7-8.” The only difference with basic abdominal breathing is that the more advanced breathing technique involves taking a deep breath and stopping after a 4-count. Hold the breath for the next 7 seconds before breathing out completely to an 8-count.
2. Pranayama Breathing
A consistent practice of pranayama breathing techniques is associated with improving cardiovascular and respiratory functions and reducing stress on several systems in the body.
How to exercise the Bhramari Pranayama Breathing: Sit comfortably in any posture, then inhale and exhale through the nostrils slowly and deeply. As you exhale, hum slowly through your nasal passages while closing your lips and closing your ears with your fingers. This will allow you to change your regular breathing patterns and refresh your mind. It is also possible for bhramari pranayama breathing to induce a meditative state.
3. Wim Hof Method Breathing
One of the main benefits of practicing the Wim Hof Method breathing technique is its ability to consciously affect the sympathetic nervous system and immune system. Changes in both systems can increase the production of IL-10 cytokines — proteins that are responsible for mediating and regulating immunity — and a quicker normalization of fever and cortisol levels. A consistent practice of this breathing technique and exposure to cold environments helps to heighten focus, increase energy levels, and promote better sleep.
How to exercise the Wim Hof Method Breathing: This breathing technique requires you to inhale deeply through the nose or mouth and exhale through the mouth as you sit or lie down in a meditative position. Repeat 30 to 40 times, in short, powerful bursts. It is vital to ensure that you fully inhale through the abdomen and chest before releasing the breath.
4. Mindful Breathing
The simplest way to master mindful breathing is to focus on how you breathe, then inhale and exhale. But before you do, find a comfortable and relaxed position. Relax your body and feel the natural flow of your breath. If you struggle to calm your mind and body in a stressful situation, try this technique.
How to exercise mindful breathing: Take an exaggerated breath by inhaling deeply through your nostrils for 3 seconds, holding your breath for 2 seconds, and exhaling through your mouth for 4 seconds.
Mindful breathing can promote several health benefits, such as better focus and concentration, positive thinking, lower blood pressure, and alleviating symptoms of anxiety and depression.
5. Morning Breathing
It’s good to practice this breathing technique when you wake up in the morning, as it helps relieve muscle stiffness and clear blocked nasal airways. You can also perform deep breathing exercises throughout the day to alleviate muscle tension in your back.
How to exercise the Morning Breathing: To perform this technique, bend forward from the waist with your knees slightly bent while letting your arms dangle. As you inhale slowly and deeply, gradually return to a standing position, ensuring that your head comes up last. To complete one repetition, exhale slowly from the waist as you return to the original position.
Morning breathing helps you relax by lessening the negative effects of cortisol (stress hormones) in your body.
6. Breathing Techniques in Traditional Chinese Medicine
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the lungs control the circulation of qi (air) in the body while the kidneys govern the reception of qi in the body. When you breathe, the lungs control inhalation and exhalation, but the kidneys govern the depth of the qi in the body for thorough usage.
A good breathing technique in TCM focuses more on the duration instead of frequency. The Tortoise Resting technique (龟息疗法) aims to breathe in and out slowly, like a tortoise.
How to exercise the Tortoise Resting: Start by lying down or sitting up in a comfortable position. Place your palms overlapping each other on your lower abdomen, below the navel. Inhale through the nose. When your diaphragm descends, your belly should bulge. Push the air deep into your stomach and lower back. Hold your breath for 5 seconds. Breathe out slowly through the mouth and continue until you exhale the last breath from the abdomen. Repeat this at least 5 times.
You can practice this technique when you wake up in the morning and before you sleep. Once you’re used to this, extend the inhalation and exhalation from 10 seconds to 15 seconds or longer.
You don’t need any special equipment to do these breathing techniques. Remember, anytime you want to relax, just stop for a few minutes, and breathe. Try making a habit of practicing one or more of these breathing exercises for just 5 minutes in the morning for a refreshing way to begin your day.
- Harvard Health Publishing. 2020. Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response. [Accessed 18 October 2021]
- University of Michigan Health. Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation. [Accessed 18 October 2021]
- US National Library of Medicine. 2017. Effects of Bhramari Pranayama on health – A systematic review. [Accessed 18 October 2021]
- WIF HOM METHOD. WIM HOF METHOD BREATHING. [Accessed 18 October 2021]
- US National Library of Medicine. 2014. Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans. [Accessed 18 October 2021]
- Mindful.org. 2016. A 5-Minute Breathing Meditation to Cultivate Mindfulness. [Accessed 18 October 2021]
- US National Library of Medicine. 2014. The Effectiveness of Daily Mindful Breathing Practices on Test Anxiety of Students. [Accessed 18 October 2021]