Your breath and your mind have an intimate relationship, if your breathing is fast and shallow it can stir up your thoughts and increase your stress, but if you learn to notice your breath and slow it down, you can reign your thoughts in and calm your mind. Stress breathing techniques give you practical ways to adjust your breath and respond at your best in any challenging situation, or anytime you want to relax and unwind.
Here are five easy ways to use your breath to lighten your load:
- Belly Breathing
Sometimes called abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing, this exercise is a great place to start and ensures that you are cleansing your lungs as well as calming your mind.
Belly breathing is good for releasing anger and upsetting thoughts, it’s also useful for pain relief and relaxation in general.
– Place your right hand over the centre of your chest, and your left hand over the centre of your stomach and take a slow deep breath in. If you notice that the hand on your stomach rises higher than the hand on your chest, you have been successful in drawing that breath deeply into the depths of your lungs. If that isn’t what happened for you take a minute or two to experiment, be sure to empty your lungs fully on your out-breath to encourage the next breath in to deepen and cause your stomach to rise.
– Exhale through your mouth, letting the breath out slowly and completely. When you feel that your lungs are nearly empty, pull your stomach in a little to squeeze the very last air from your lungs.
– Repeat four times, until you have completed five cycles of deep refreshing abdominal breathing.
Once you are comfortable with this breathing technique you can stop using your hands, and you might like to add some words to the exercise to help you feel even more calm and in control.
Some people find it helpful to simply say something like “calm” or “peace” on their out-breath, you can say it in your mind or whisper it with your breath – it’s up to you.
- Counting Breaths
Counting Breaths is a simple technique that occupies your mind by keeping it focused on counting every time you exhale. As you place your full attention on your outgoing breath you may notice that things start to feel less rushed and more peaceful for you.
– Take a few deep breaths and let tension drain away from your shoulders and concentrate on breathing steadily, slowly and quietly.
– Count “one” to yourself as you exhale, and the next time you exhale, count “two”, on the next exhalation count “three” and onwards until you reach the number five.
– Begin a new cycle, starting again with “one” on your next exhalation. Watch your breath and try and breath deeply and steadily until you have counted up to five and then begin again.
– Repeat this cycle five times, or more if you feel comfortable.
- The Calming Breath
This is a real favourite of mine, it’s so quick and simple to do and you can feel the benefits immediately. The power in this particular technique lies in counting out an extended exhalation which feels very calming and also helps slow your heart rate if it’s racing away due to stress or anxiety.
Here’s how to do it: take a deep breath in for the count of four (count one thousand, two thousand, three thousand, four to set a slow and steady pace), then hold your breath for the count of two, and release slowly through slightly pursed lips for the count of eight.
The calming breath is also useful if you feel angry or irritated, it can quickly calm and cool your mind and help you gain a sense of clarity and control.
- Cooling Breath
Borrowed from the yoga practice of pranayama, the cooling breath is useful for times when you feel hot and bothered, this breathing exercise has a similar effect to the way dogs cool themselves down by panting, though you’ll be glad to know it looks more discreet and you can do it without anyone noticing.
Part your lips slightly and curl your tongue up so it’s resting on the roof of your mouth, behind your top teeth (the place you put your tongue to make the sound of the letter “l”). Now breath in slowly through your slightly open mouth, and feel the cool sensation of the incoming air on the underside of your tongue. Hold the breath for a moment or two and then exhale slowly through your nose. You can repeat this until you feel cool, calm and collected.
- The Single Breath
Courtesy of the inspiring Mary Jaksch, this has got to be the simplest technique of all. Walk to a window, look outside, as far into the distance as you can and take one single, slow, deep breath. That’s it! If you think it’s too simple to bother with, I challenge you to try it for a day or two and feel for yourself just how much it can steady and calm your mind.
You could try this several times a day, using any window you see as a cue to stop for a second or two, drop your shoulders, and breathe. Be fully aware of your breath, feel it enter and leave your lungs and allow yourself to feel how it calms you for that one moment of reflective pause.
These five simple stress breathing exercises are just a few from an endless variety of ways you can work with your breath to reduce stress or anxiety. You might play with them all, or might pick one or two to use regularly to diffuse stress or process emotions. Either way, I hope you find them helpful.