How do you deal with stress? Hit the gym? Get outdoors? Grab the nearest glass and bottle of wine? You may want to consider breath control exercises, a secret that Buddhists, yogis, and those who practice meditation have known for years. Now, we have science to back it up.
How Breath Control Exercises Help You To Relax
Daily stress is an unavoidable part of our lives. Our jobs, families, relationships, traffic, money – so many things that pile up on our shoulders day after day. While, of course, you feel these stresses mentally, the chronic stress response they trigger on your body has a major impact on your physical health. Breath control exercises are one of the best things you can do to counter that. These exercises trigger the relaxation response in the body, helping you calm down from the inside out. (1)
1. Diaphragmatic Breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing is the breathing technique used in most meditation practices. It involves deep belly breathing to strengthen your diaphragm muscles, which help you to breathe. Diaphragmatic breathing has been known to (2):
- Reduce the effects of cortisol on your body
- Lower your heart rate and blood pressure
- Improve core muscle stability
- Increases your capacity for exercise and helps to avoid injury
- Helps cope with PTSD
How To Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing can be done anywhere, however, it is most effective when practiced in a calm, comfortable, quiet environment. Follow these steps to learn how (2):
- Find a flat, comfortable place to either sit or lie down on your back.
- Relax your shoulders.
- Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
- Breath in through your nose for two seconds, allowing the air to pass through your nostrils all the way down to your stomach. You should feel your stomach expand. Your stomach should be moving while your chest remains relatively still.
- Position your lips as if you are about to drink from a straw.
- Press gently on your stomach and exhale slowly for about two seconds.
- Repeat several times until you begin to feel relaxed.
2. The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique
Not only does this technique help to reduce anxiety, but it may also be useful when you are having trouble falling asleep. (3)
- Fully breath out, completely emptying your lungs of air.
- Breath in quietly through your nose for four seconds.
- Hold your breath for seven seconds.
- Purse your lips and exhale powerfully through your mouth, making a “wooshing” sound for eight seconds.
- Repeat four times.
3. Rib-Stretch Breathing
This technique is done in the standing position and is easy to use when you need to release some nerves before a big presentation or when you simply feel a wave of anxiety coming on. (2)
- Stand up straight, then arch your back.
- Breath all the air out of your lungs.
- Inhale slowly, taking in as much air as you can until you can’t take in any more.
- Hold your breath for 10 seconds.
- Breath out slowly through your mouth.
4. Focused Breathing
This breathing technique helps you to focus your mind so that you feel more relaxed. (4)
- Close your eyes.
- Take a few big, deep breaths.
- As you breathe in, imagine the air you’re breathing in is full of peace and tranquility. Feel the air flowing through your entire body.
- Breath out. While you’re breathing out, imagine the stress and tension leaving your body with the air.
- Add in a phrase for your next breath in. Something like “I breathe in calm and tranquility.”
- Add a phrase for the following breath out about breathing out stress and tension.
- Repeat this for 10 to 20 minutes.
5. Numbered Breathing
This is another great technique that you can do standing up anywhere. This involves counting up to eight, so you have an end-point, making it a good technique to use when you are out. (2)
- Standing still, close your eyes.
- Inhale until you can’t any longer.
- Exhale until you can’t any longer.
- Inhale again, picturing the number 1.
- Hold the air for a few seconds, then breathe it all out.
- Inhale again while picturing the number 2.
- Hold your breath for a few seconds, then let it all out.
- Repeat until you’ve reached number 8.
6. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This one is done best lying down and is especially helpful when you are trying to go to sleep.
- Lay comfortably on your back on either your bed or on the floor. (4)
- Take a few relaxing breaths.
- Breath in while tensing your feet muscles.
- Breath out while relaxing them.
- Breath in while tensing your calf muscles.
- Breath out while relaxing them.
- Work slowly up your body, timing your tensing and relaxing of each muscle group with your breath. Be sure to include your legs, stomach, chest, shoulders, neck, arms, hands and fingers, and face.
Practice Makes Perfect
If you’re not used to meditative or controlled breathing, it might take you some time to get used to them. The more you practice breath control exercises, however, the more effective you will find them. Soon, you will be able to use these techniques to help you calm down in no time at all. Try them out and see which one works best for you.
- “Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response.” Health. January 2015.
- “What Is Diaphragmatic Breathing?” Healthline. Tim Jewell. September 25, 2018
- “How to use 4-7-8 breathing for anxiety.” Medical News Today. Jenna Fletcher. February 12, 2019
- “Breathing Techniques for Stress Relief.” WebMD. January 19, 2020.