We take many actions that we don’t give much thought to everyday. An example: breathing! Yeah, taking a deep breath seems relatively mundane on the surface, but it’s pretty much essential to, you know, keep living.
Considering that breathing (along with brain, muscle and heart functions) is one of the most necessary auto-actions we do, it makes sense that breathing exercises and techniques can regulate stress, tension and anxiety.
So, you just got 15 emails, your phone is ringing, and you have to pick up your little girl from daycare in 20 minutes. Stop your heartbeat from going all wacko by consciously connecting your breathing. Think: how do you breathe when you’re absolutely relaxed? Think of how you feel breath before you go to sleep, or when you wake up. Just slowly inhale, exhale, and go from there!
Deep Breathing Exercises
Similar to conscious breathing, deep breathing tells your brain when to calm the heck down. Breathing deeply helps decrease heart rate, slows your breath rate and helps lower heightened blood pressure.
Andrew Weil, M.D., suggests that breathing exercises are useful stress relievers because breath is easily controlled and regulated. One exercise he suggests to maintain stress: the 4-7-8 (or Relaxing Breath) Exercise. The practice is simple and can be done anywhere:
“Although you can do the exercise in any position, sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Note that you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.
This exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it but gains in power with repetition and practice. Do it at least twice a day. You cannot do it too frequently. Do not do more than four breaths at one time for the first month of practice. Later, if you wish, you can extend it to eight breaths. If you feel a little lightheaded when you first breathe this way, do not be concerned; it will pass.
Once you develop this technique by practicing it every day, it will be a very useful tool that you will always have with you. Use it whenever anything upsetting happens - before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension. Use it to help you fall asleep. This exercise cannot be recommended too highly. Everyone can benefit from it.”
Other Deep Breathing Exercises
Exercises from NPR’s “Just Breathe: Body Has a Built-In Stress Reliever”
Deep Breathing Exercises to Relive Stress