Breathing Exercises for Stress Relief

Breathing exercises are free, easy, and convenient stress relievers.

There are different breathing techniques for different types of relaxation, so it may take some trial and error before finding the method that resonates with you. Regardless, they all reduce anxiety and promote physical and mental wellbeing.

1. Roll Breathing

When roll breathing, your belly and chest rise and fall like rolling waves, creating a steady rhythm to focus on instead of your worries. This breathing method also helps to increase lung capacity.

  1. Lay down with your knees bent. Place your left hand on your belly and your right hand on your chest.
  2. Inhale through the nose to fill your belly. Your left hand should rise as you do this while your right hand should remain still.
  3. Exhale through the mouth. Do this 8 to 10 times.
  4. Next, breathe in to fill the belly as you did before, but now continue inhaling to fill the chest. Your right hand should now rise and your left hand should fall a little.
  5. Exhale slowly through the mouth. It helps to make a whooshing sound as you do this. Both hands should fall. Continue this exercise for 3 to 5 minutes.

2. 4-7-8 Breathing

It is best to practice 4-7-8 breathing when sitting in good posture or lying down, since this breathing method is especially helpful for falling asleep.

Although there is limited scientific evidence, advocates of 4-7-8 breathing claim that using this technique at least twice per day increases the effectiveness.

  1. Rest the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth right behind the top front teeth.
  2. Exhale through the mouth to empty your lungs.
  3. Breathe in silently through the nose for 4 seconds.
  4. Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
  5. Exhale forcefully through the mouth for 8 seconds.
  6. Repeat up to 4 times.

3. Humming Bee Breath (Bhramari Pranayama)

Humming bee breathing produces a sound and vibration that soothes the nerves and relieves tension. The practice can also help to alleviate headaches.

  1. Close your eyes and place your index fingers on the tragus cartilage between your cheeks and ears.
  2. Breathe deeply through the nose.
  3. As you exhale, make a humming sound with closed lips and gently press the cartilages.
  4. Repeat for as long as you feel comfortable.

4. Equal Breathing (Sama Vritti)

As stated in the name, this technique is about achieving balance and equanimity. Though it can be practiced almost anywhere, most people prefer a comfortable seated position on the floor or in a chair.

  1. Begin by naturally breathing in and out through your nose about five times or so.
  2. As you breathe in, count to a number that you are comfortable with. You can take a slight pause after each inhale.
  3. Count to the same number as you exhale. You can also pause at the end of each exhale if you wish. You can experiment with different numbers, but the point of equal breathing is to match the lengths of your inhalation and exhalation.
  4. Continue this practice for several minutes.

5. Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)

Similar to equal breathing, alternate nostril breathing restores balance to both sides of the body. This practice lowers your heart rate and improves the respiratory system, all while calming the mind.

  1. Sitting with your back straight, take your right hand and rest your index and middle fingers between your eyebrows.
  2. Close your eyes and inhale deeply. Gently close your right nostril with your thumb and slowly exhale through your left nostril.
  3. Inhale through the left nostril, pause at the top of the breath, and close your left nostril with your ring and pinky fingers. Release your thumb and exhale through your right nostril.
  4. Repeat this cycle 5 to 10 times. Finish with an exhale on the left side.

If you begin to breathe too fast, feel dizzy, lightheaded, or even more anxious, slow your breathing, then resume normal breathing until the feeling passes and you can get up slowly.

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