It's easy to get stressed out from pressures at work, relationship conflicts, or troubling world events. When you just can't get your mind to stop spinning or your shoulders to unclench, that's when it's helpful to know some relaxing breathing techniques.
Your breath is directly connected to your nervous system, and it's a great tool for calming your nerves and clearing your mind.1 Breathing exercises can even help you manage symptoms of stress-related conditions like irritable bowel syndrome2, depression and anxiety3, and sleeplessness4.
Your breath is one thing that you can always control and regulate, even when other events are out of your hands. Here are 3 simple breathing exercises that are easy to try, even if you've never done breathwork before:
1. For Energy: The Stimulating Breath
The Stimulating Breath technique comes from yogic breathing techniques. Its purpose is to increase vital energy and alertness. To start, inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose while keeping your mouth closed yet relaxed. Breathe in and out with equal duration (as short as possible).
Breathing in-and-put 3 times per second will produce quick movements in the diaphragm. Then, breathe normally after each cycle.
Don't do for more than 15 seconds on your first try. Each time you practice the Stimulating Breath you can increase your time by five seconds until you reach an entire minute.
When done properly, you should feel invigorated similar to the feeling after a tough workout. You should feel some strain on the back of your neck, the diaphragm, the chest, and the abdomen. Rather than reaching for a cup of coffee, try this breathing exercise to get a burst of energy.
2. For Calm: The 4-7-8 Exercise
The 4-7-8 breathing exercise is extremely simple and doesn't require any equipment. Sit with your back straight and place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of your upper front teeth. Keep your tongue there throughout the entire exercise. Try exhaling through your mouth around your tongue. Then, exhale through your mouth while making a 'swoosh' sound.
Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose. Count to four and hold your breath for seven seconds. Exhale completely through your mouth and count to eight seconds. This will be one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Always inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. The tip of your tongue should always rest against the roof of your mouth the entire time and exhale twice as long and you inhale. Make sure to keep the ratio to 4:7:8 for the three phases.
This breathing exercise should help calm your nervous system. Try doing it at least twice a day, but not too frequently. Use this breathing exercise whenever you are aware of internal tension or stress and to help you fall asleep.
3. For Deep Relaxation: Breath Counting
After you have mastered the first two breathing exercises, we recommend a more advanced method called Breath Counting. First, sit in a comfortable position with your back straight (Do not hunch over) and head inclined slightly forward. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
To begin the exercise, count “one” to yourself as you exhale.
The next time you exhale, count “two,” and so on up to “five.”
Then begin a new cycle, counting “one” on the next exhalation.
Never count higher than “five,” and count only when you exhale. You will know your attention has wandered when you find yourself up to “eight,” “12,” even “19.”
Try to do 10 minutes of this form of meditation.
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3. Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis, 2014 Mar;174(3):357-68. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018
4. A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation for chronic insomnia, 2014 Sep 1;37(9):1553-63. doi: 10.5665/sleep.4010