breathing for relaxation 2

The next time you’re feeling really relaxed, take a moment to notice how you’re breathing. Chances are, your breath will be evenly paced and deep. When we’re stressed, we tend to breathe more quickly and take in shallow breaths which can often make us feel even more stressed. Taking control of your stress levels can be made easier by learning some simple breathing exercises which encourage both your body and your mind to relax.

Learning deep breathing techniques is one of the best and easiest ways to help reduce stress. Your brain picks up when you’re breathing more slowly. As a result, it tells your heart to slow down, your blood pressure to lower, and your stress hormones to subside.

Most of us don’t give a second though to how we breathe but consider this:

  • The way you breathe affects your entire body.
  • Breathing more slowly reduces tension and helps put you more in control.
  • Breathing exercises can be done anywhere, anytime, and are easy to learn.
  • Practiced regularly, breathing to relax becomes second nature – you’ll get to a point where you don’t even notice you’re doing it.

Here are some simple breathing exercises to try:

An introductory breathing exercise

You can do this exercise standing up, sitting in a chair that supports your back, or lying on a bed or yoga mat on the floor.

  • If you’re lying down, place your arms a little bit away from your sides, with the palms up. Straighten your legs or bend your knees so your feet are flat on the floor, hip-width apart.
  • If you’re sitting, place your arms on the chair arms and place both feet flat on the ground hip-width apart.
  • Get as comfortable as you can, loosening any clothing that might restrict your breathing.
  • Take a moment to notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.
  • Let your breath flow as deep down into your belly as is comfortable, without forcing it.
  • Breath in gently through your nose, and without pausing, breathe out through your mouth. You might find it helpful to silently count to five on the in-breath, and five on the out-breath. Don’t worry if you can’t reach five, do as much as you can.
  • If you feel your focus drifting, consciously bring your attention back to your breathing.
  • Repeat for three to five minutes, or until you feel calm.

Basic belly breathing

This is easy to do and very relaxing, with the added bonus that it takes only moments.

  • Get as comfortable as you can, loosening any clothing that might restrict your breathing.
  • Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position.
  • Put one hand on the centre of your belly just below your ribs.
  • Put your other hand on your chest.
  • Take a deep, slow breath in through your nose and let your belly push your hand out. Your chest shouldn’t move.
  • Breathe out through pursed lips (pretend you’re whistling). As you exhale, the hand on your belly should go in as you use it to push all the air out.
  • Repeat this slowly three to ten times, or until you feel calm.
  • Take a moment to notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.

4-7-8 belly breathing

Once you feel confident that you’ve mastered basic belly breathing, take things up a notch by practicing this modified version.

  • Get as comfortable as you can, loosening any clothing that might restrict your breathing.
  • Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position.
  • As with the basic belly breathing exercise, put one hand on the centre of your belly, just below your ribs, and the other on your chest.
  • Taking a deep, slow breath in through your nose, count to four as you breathe in and let your belly push your hand out. Your chest shouldn’t move.
  • Hold your breath, silently counting to seven.
  • Breathe out through pursed lips (pretend you’re whistling). Breathe out completely for a count of eight. As you exhale, the hand on your belly should go in as you use it to push all the air out. The aim is to get all of the air out of your lungs by the time you reach eight.
  • Repeat three to seven times or until you feel calm.
  • Take a moment to notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.

You may find it helpful to have a look at our other resources on managing stress.

 

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