Five Breathing Exercises to to Reduce Stress

by Sheira Chan |

Five Breathing Exercises to to Reduce Stress

The Breath is everything!  If we can learn how to tune in to our breath, it tells us everything that is happening within our bodies.

Stress is insidious as most of us aren't even aware we are stressed or living with chronic stress until something forces us to stop and take note. But the easiest way to tap into how we are feeling is to look at the breath.

Below enlisted are some easy breathing exercises that can be done anywhere – from sitting on a desk to a walking to waiting in line and even in the shower. 

Five Breathing Exercises to Get You Started & Reduce Your Stress

Take your time with these if it is the first you are trying breathing techniques. Be patient with yourself. An emerging skill or exercise requires time to grasp and practice. You can set an alarm daily to practice it for at least 5 minutes, while sitting at your desk and gradually increasing the time. Regular short practices will produce good results.  

Beginner Breathing: An Easy, Basic Exercise that is a Good Starting Point

Start by taking deep breaths: take a deep inhale through your nose for 3 seconds, hold it for about 2 seconds, and then exhale through your mouth in 4 seconds.

If you experience wandering thoughts, quickly divert your attention back to your breath. Don't worry if your mind wanders just bring it back when you notice it has wandered.

Repeat. Slowly increase your time up to about 15 minutes a day.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Abdominal breathing, also known as belly breathing, can lower your heartbeat and blood pressure. This exercise the body’s “fight-or-flight” response and stimulates the activity of the vagal nerve, another important component of stress reduction.

How to practice: lie on your back on a flat surface with your knees bent (if needed, place a pillow under your knees for support). Place your one hand on the upper chest and one beneath your rib cage, so you can feel the movement of your diaphragm while you breathe.  Gradually inhale through your nose while sensing your stomach’s movement against your hand, and then stiffen your stomach muscles while exhaling through your mouth.

Incorporate this practice thrice a day for about five to 10 minutes. This method can get more comfortable if you put a book on your stomach, making it a little extra challenging and beneficial.

Alternate Nostril Breathing 

This practice is very common, also known as yogic breath control. This is believed to balance the two hemispheres of the brain, leading to harmonize your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Start by sitting straight up in a comfortable seat, placing your left palm in your lap.  Bring your right hand to your face in a way that pointer and middle fingers lie between your eyebrows.  Close your eyes and perform deep inhale and exhale through your nose.

Then, place your right thumb to close your right nostril while inhaling through your left nostril.  Then, put your ring finger on the left nostril so both nostrils are closed momentarily, then open your right nostril and slowly exhale through your right side.

Inhale through your right nostril, close both nostrils with your ring finger and thumb.  Remove your finger from the left nostril and exhale slowly through your left side.  Perform this five to 10 times once a day, or as needed.

4-7-8 Breathing

This technique was developed by integrative medicine Andrew Weil, MD, and again is based on the yogic technique pranayama.

Here's how to do it: sit with your back straight and place the tip of your tongue behind your upper front teeth. Maintain this position throughout the breathing exercise.  Then, exhale through your mouth, creating a "whoosh" sound.

  • Close your mouth, inhale through your nose, and count till four.
  • Hold your breath for seven seconds.
  • Open your mouth and exhale through it, making a whoosh sound for eight seconds.

Repeat this cycle three more times, with a recommended practice at least twice a day. 

The "Body Scan" Technique

This involves doing deep breathing while focusing your attention on different parts of your body, from head to toe, starting with your forehead and ending at the muscles in your feet.

It can be performed lying down or sitting, whatever suits you the most. Shut your eyes and place a close attention to your body’s position.  For instance, you can focus on the weight of your body against the chair or the floor.

Inhale deeply, sense oxygen entering your body and pay attention on relaxation as you exhale.  Feel the sensations of your feet touching the floor or your legs touching against the chair.

Now, focus on the other areas of your body as well. Pay attention on how your back feels against the chair? Do you feel tension in your hands or stomach? (If yes, relax them.) Make your jaws relax by loosening your shoulders.

Feel your body for another minute, take a breath, and open your eyes.

At first, begin with short duration of time for about three to five minutes before increasing it up to 20 minutes at least thrice a week. The more you perform body scan, the more benefits you’ll have.

Pause, take a breath and smile!

Sheira Chan is a London-based Acupuncturist who specializes in musculoskeletal injuries, cancer support & women's health. She specializes in Acupuncture, Tui Na massage, Gua Sha and Moxibustion.

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