Stop and pause what you’re doing and take a big inhale, filling up your lungs with air, pausing at the top and then taking a deep exhale emptying all the air out. Did you notice that? The almost instant release and relaxation—even if just momentarily—calming you down?
Using your breath is one of the most powerful, yet highly underrated and sometimes even misunderstood, techniques for stress relief, centering, and relaxation.
Breathing is something we innately do from the moment we are born, every second of every day; however, there is a difference between simply breathing and deep breathing. Deep breathing requires more focus and a few minutes of uninterrupted time to truly reap the benefits.
The benefits of deep breathing
According to this article, “Every day, you take thousands of breaths without even thinking about it. The process of breathing in and out allows fresh oxygen to pass to the blood, as carbon dioxide is removed from the body. Deep breathing, however, is a mindful practice that provides numerous health benefits beyond the standard respiration required to live.”
These benefits can range from improved lung function, to better circulation, increased energy, and of course stress release. And why does this happen specifically? When we are under stress our bodies ignite a fight or flight response, igniting a release of adrenaline into the bloodstream, in turn increasing blood pressure, pulse rate and quickening, shallow breaths. Deep breathing on the other hand stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and reverses the stress response, slowing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure and calming the mind.
The best part is, breathing is a tool that is always accessible, free, and can be done from anywhere. In addition, you can reap the benefits of deep breaths in just a few minutes, and while there are whole practices and hundreds of different types of breathwork exercises out there, even the simplest techniques can help you achieve profound benefits.
Whether you are finding yourself stressed and overwhelmed, or just want to begin incorporation some more mindfulness into your week, here are a few simple, basic types of breathing exercises to build into your daily routine or utilize. For each of these, sit in a comfortable position with a tall spine, or lay down with one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart, closing your eyes if that feels good to you.
Begin by counting the length of your inhales and exhales, which focuses the mind and allows you to zone in on nothing but your breath. Start with a count of four so as you inhale count one, two, three, four as you fill the lungs with air, and as you exhale, count four, three, two, one and breathe all the air out. As you become more comfortable with deep breathing, simply increase the count to five, six, seven, eight, etc, expanding your lungs and taking full, deep breaths. You can always set a timer and focus on this type of deep breathing until the timer goes off.
Ujayi breathing is a deep breathing technique used in yoga to quiet the mind and build internal heat while also calming the nervous system. Start by sitting in a comfortable cross legged position and inhaling slowly through your nose. As you exhale, keep your lips sealed but make a slight constriction in your throat, exhaling through your nose with an audible exhale.
Ujjayi breathing is also known as ocean breath, as the sound of your inhales and exhales should resemble the sound of an ocean wave. Let this breath soothe you as you fill up the body with air, and release anything that no longer serves you. You can combine this type of breathing with the other techniques listed here as well.
Focus on your breath while internally repeating meaningful mantras on your inhalations and exhalations. For example, as you breathe, you can think “as I inhale, I feel more energized; as I exhale I feel more relaxed.”
You can also pair your breath with positive affirmations and the release of any negative thoughts or emotions. For example, on your inhalation you can repeat any positive qualities you wish to embody, such as “I am strong, smart, and capable of achieving my wildest dreams.” Then, while you exhale, imagine any doubts or fears about those qualities leaving your mind and body.
This exercise works as a way to both quiet the mind and focus on breathing while also serving as a motivating, and empowering self-love technique.
I know that when you’re stressed or overwhelmed, whether you are embarking on a long hike, late for work and stuck in traffic, or just dealing with some of the heavy things life can throw at us from time to time, the last thing you want to do is take a minute to just slow down and pause, sit with yourself, and breathe. However, I encourage you to utilize this built in tool, the breath, from your self-care tool box, to calm you down, center, and remind you that you can get through anything today.