Foster inner peace amid chaotic outer circumstances. These three breathing exercises are simple to deploy in any given situation, and can play a valuable role in managing stress.
“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” – Amit Ray
Stress in a Nutshell
Stressful situations activate the sympathetic nervous system, releasing stress hormones in the body and initiating the “fight or flight” response, which is what helps us respond to a perceived threat with urgency.
Our ability to respond quickly to danger is vital to survival, and so a little stress is a good thing in certain situations. For example, if you need to jump out of the way of an oncoming vehicle, the stress response may indeed save your life.
It’s when stress becomes an everyday, moment-to-moment experience, a way of living, that it becomes detrimental to our physical, mental, and emotional livelihood.
3 Practical Deep Breathing Exercises
Focused breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, sending a message of relaxation to the brain. If you can recognize shallow breathing, you can come back down to earth–to the present moment–with a few deep breaths. Try these simple breathing exercises for stress relief and reconnect with your inner peace.
This is simplicity at its finest. No matter what you’re faced with right now, you can pause, even if only for a moment. Actually, the very point of this exercise is that you use just a tiny moment to realign the mental with the emotional.
- Focus on one, long, deep breath. Inhale deeply, feeling your diaphragm and belly expand (not your chest). Exhale through your nose or mouth for the same count, or longer. Be fully conscious of this breath.
- Observe your mind. Does it wander during this breath? It’s okay if it does. Where does it go? Can you try again to be right here, right now?
- Refocus if you need to, bringing your mind back to your breath. If your mind wanders, just acknowledge this without judgment, and return.
Pausing to breathe gives the mind a chance to catch up with the emotion being felt. The purpose of this exercise is to simply be aware, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.
2. Equal Breathing
Known as Sama Vritti in Sanskrit, “sama” means even, smooth, flat, equal or same; “vritti” means fluctuations or modifications. This breathing exercise focuses on equalizing the breath as a way to smooth the fluctuating mind.
- Inhale through the nose for a count of four.
- Exhale through the nose for a count of four.
This amazingly simple technique is a gentle yet powerful way to calm the nervous system, repel stress, and enhance awareness. You can work your way up to a count of six or eight as you become more practiced. Just breath for equal counts through the nose. Use it during the day or at nighttime to promote better sleep.
3. Progressive Relaxation
This is a breathing technique that you can use anywhere, anytime.
- Close your eyes.
- Focus intently on each body part, one at a time, from your toes working your way up to your eyes–calves, knees, thighs, butt, stomach, chest, arms and hands.
- Breathe through the nose and tense each muscle group, one at a time. Hold for three to five seconds per muscle group.
- Breathe out through the mouth and relax the tensed muscle group. Slowly release for three to five seconds, or longer.
If you become uncomfortable or lightheaded holding the breath, hold for a lesser count.
Applying Mindful Breathing
The concept of conscious deep breathing revolves around mindfulness. Mindful breathing can be practiced while waiting for an appointment, walking to the car, and brushing your teeth. You can even practice deep breathing while you exercise, focusing on how you feel when you coordinate your body’s movements with each inhale and exhale (as in a yoga practice).
The key is to focus on your breath in daily life, during times of relaxation and during times of stress. Make it a habit. Incorporate deep breathing exercises into your morning or evening routine. Practice deep breathing during meals. Pause throughout the day, and keep returning to your practice whether you’re stressed or not.
You may also like the 4-7-8 breathing method for better sleep.
- Do you practice any breathing exercises?
- What techniques do you find helpful in stressful situations?
Please share your thoughts, practices, tips, and experiences with me in the comments.
Share this post with someone who could use some inner peace and quiet today.
Whenever you’re struggling, the answer always lies within the rest you take between two deep breaths.