Breath is our most accessible tool for countering stress, yet we often take it for granted. Try these breathing exercises to face stressful situations and people with a steady hand, a forgiving heart, and a peaceful inner state.
“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” – Amit Ray
Walter Kirn was right when he said, “Just breathing can be a luxury sometimes.” In a world that can fly by us in a chaotic blink of an eye, conscious breathing will set our feet back on the ground, in the moment. The breath not only keeps us alive from moment to moment, but it is the portal to the moment lived in heightened awareness and relaxation.
When we’re upset or stressed, our breathing becomes quick and shallow, which leads to other reactions in the body often referred to as the “fight or flight” syndrome. By focusing on our breathing during a stressful moment, we can rise above the situation and return to peace.
The following breathing exercises are simple enough to practice daily, and powerful enough to bring you from chaos to stillness.
3 Deep Breathing Exercises for Stress-Relief
“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Ujjayi (pronounced oo-jai) is an ancient yogic breathing technique commonly referred to as the “oceanic breath.” Though often used when practicing hatha yoga, and even during aerobic exercise to improve respiratory efficiency, Ujjayi can help you stay focused and centered as you move through daily life.
Follow these steps:
- Seal your lips and breathe in and out through your nose.
- Inhale more deeply through your nose.
- Exhale slowly through your nose while constricting the muscles in the back of your throat.
To get the sound right, try practicing your exhales with an open mouth first, as if you were trying to fog up a window. With a closed mouth, attempt to recreate the “HAAAAH” sound in your exhales.
The sound your breath makes should resemble ocean waves—your inhales can be compared to water gathering up to form a wave, and your exhales can be compared to the waves crashing into the shore. Ujjayi breathing may even remind you of Darth Vader from Star Wars.
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Abdominal breathing–also known as diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing–is actually a natural and relaxed form of breathing that occurs in all mammals when there is no clear and present danger in their environment.
Follow these steps:
- Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.
- Take a slow, deep breath in through the nose to the count of 10. Your abdomen (not your chest) should expand with each inhale.
- Exhale slowly and completely for a similar count.
- Practice 5-10 slow, deep breaths per minute for 10 minutes, or as long as you can.
When you’re about to face a stressful event, try this breathing technique to balance your energies.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
“You don’t always need a plan. Sometimes you just need to breathe, trust, let go and see what happens.” – Mandy Hale
Also called Nadi Shodhana, alternate nostril breathing brings inner calm and balance, harmonizing the left and right sides of the brain. This technique helps bring the mind back to the present moment, clears subtle energy channels, releases accumulated tension, and may provide therapeutic benefits to the circulatory and respiratory systems.
Follow these steps:
- Sit in a comfortable position with a straight spine, relaxed shoulders, and eyes closed.
- Place your left hand on the left knee, palm open to the sky.
- Place the tip of the index finger and middle finger of the right hand in between the eyebrows, the ring finger and little finger on the left nostril, and the thumb on the right nostril. You don’t need to apply any pressure.
- Close your right nostril with your thumb and breathe out gently through the left nostril.
- Inhale through the left nostril.
- At the peak of inhalation, close the left nostril with the ring finger and little finger, and exhale through the right nostril.
- Inhale through the right nostril, close it off with the right thumb, and exhale through the left nostril.
This is one round. Continue this pattern for 9 rounds, alternating your breath between left and right nostrils. After each exhalation, you breathe in from the same nostril from which you exhaled.
Do not use Ujjayi breath with this exercise, but instead keep your breathing natural and relaxed.
When you’re feeling scattered, tense, or lethargic, try alternate nostril breathing to clear your mind and energize your body.
- Have you tried any of these, or other, deep breathing exercises?
- How do you get back to peace?
Please share your thoughts, positive practices, stress relief methods, and any experiences with me in the comments.
Share these breathing exercises with someone who could use some peace today.
The trick is to keep breathing. As long as you’re breathing, you have another chance for new life and true happiness.
Free graphic by We Lived Happily Ever After; lettering by Aim Happy.