The 5 best stress relieving breathing exercises to start with today

Do you feel often stressed during the day? Your heart racing and your mind overwhelmed and not being able to catch a break? Well, stress relieving breathing exercises might be the right choice for you to catch a grip.

It might feel bad feeling stressed often, but you are not alone.breathing exercises for anxiety

Currently in the UK estimates says that the total amount of work lost due to illness via stress in 2015 and 2016 was 11.7 million days…. On average that means 24 days per person.

It is rather sad, because it’s not that hard to mitigate stress and be more relaxed. By simply learning a few stress relief techniques you could very easily ease stress symptoms and improve your day.

Of course, as I always mention, prevention is more important. You should figure out which areas of your life are stressful, what events and activities cause you stress and deal with them.

10 minutes meditation a day is great but it won’t help you in getting rid of your stressors. However, that’s for another discussion.

I think stress relieving breathing exercises are good for two reasons:

  1. Sometimes during the day, when stress is piling up, you just need to be able to catch a break.
  2. They are great to include in your daily routines and stress relief methods you are using

So without too much intro, let’s see the topic of stress relieving breathing exercises in a bit more details.

 

The beauty of stress relieving breathing exercises

I think breathing techniques are awesome. They are simple to do, they are free and you can do them everywhere.

You don’t need a yoga mat for them, you don’t need much space, nor do you need too much time.

What’s even better is that breathing exercises have fast, short-term stress relieving effects. Especially, as the more you practice, the easier it becomes to use the as a natural stress reliever.

 

‘But what are the benefits of simple breathing for stress relief?’ – you might ask

The reason why breathing exercises can be a great part of your stress management practice is simple. Yet, to understand it, you need to know a bit what is happening when you get stressed.

When stressed, your body activates the fight-or-flight response, which prepares your body to deal with the stressful situation.

Some say that the name comes from the fact, that in pre-historical times, stressful situation were rather life threatening. When people faced a mountain cougar in the wild, they had two options, fight or flight.

In a dangerous situation, their heart had to start pumping stronger, provide blood to the most important body parts, increase focus and get ready for whatever happens next.

We are not living in the wild anymore but the workings of our bodies are hardwired through the centuries. Stressful situations, might not be life threatening, but they still activate the same response in our bodies.

In the short term, this is great, because a little stress is helpful, it can help to focus better, have an increased amount of energy. However when exposed to stress for a longer time, these effects can turn into being harmful.

In this post you can find a longer description of the symptoms of stress and how they can be harmful in the long run.

The take away from this short intermezzo is the following: Breathing exercises can have benefits for stress relief, because they can counter-act the working of stress.

When doing stress relief breathing techniques, you force your body to slow down.

First of all, you take a break by sitting or laying down for the exercise. This already sets a different pace from your daily to-dos and work.

When stressed, your breathing can become shallow and unwillingly you take small breaths, usually with the upper part of your chest.

Stress relieving breathing exercises typically make you take deep breaths, promoting breathing with your abdominal area as well. This encourages oxygen exchange and provides extra energy for your body.

Stress relieving breathing techniques also help to slow down your heart rate and blood pressure. This research found that it could provide short-term benefits for people with hypertension while another research found that breathing exercises can be a useful stress management method in lowering stress.

I found breathing techniques for stress relief to be great in relaxing your muscles as well, especially the abdominal area. This is an area for me which gets tensed when I am feeling stressed.

By doing deep breathing or technically any type of stress relieving breathing exercise, I can relax this are very well. However they not only relax this area but also other parts of your body like neck, shoulders, hands or legs. I think this is a very useful benefit of stress relieving breathing exercises, as tense muscles are a common symptom of stress.

It’s pretty amazing how a simple type of exercise can help you in so many positive ways.

So after all this positivity, let’s see what type of stress relieving breathing exercises you can try at home.

 

5 super breathing exercises for stress relief

 

The Blue Breathing Technique

The first one on the list is a stress relieving breathing exercise I came up with because I found it difficult to concentrate when doing breathing techniques. My mind was wondering all around and it kept annoying me.

With including visualisation in the mix, it helped me calming my mind and get more in the flow of relaxation.

So this is a simple deep breathing exercise together with visualisation to help in focusing and relax better.

 

When to use the Blue Breathing Technique?

I think you can use it when you are feeling busy and overwhelmed in your mind.

It’s also great to use before other relaxation or meditation exercises as it works great to put you in a more relax mood and calm your mind down. This will make it easier to do other meditation exercises and relaxation activities.

I typically use it as part of my morning rituals and in the evening when I feel like I need an extra technique to help me relax.

 

How to use the Blue Breathing Technique?

stress_relief_techniques_breathing

For a detailed description on how to use the technique, you can read this post I wrote. For a short summary:

  1. Take a comfy position, sitting or laying down. I like laying down more.
    1. Make sure that your back is comfy and straight
  2. Start taking deep breaths, starting from the bottom of your lungs (abdominal area) and slowly filling your whole lungs until the top.
    1. Do it in your own pace, that is not too slow, not too fast but relaxing enough.
    2. No counting or other things are needed.
  3. While breathing in, imagine how fresh and clean the air feels. I imagine the air as light blue with vivid blue particles in it.
  4. Notice how you lungs are being filled with this fresh and cleansing air.
  5. Breath out in the same relaxed pace.
  6. Imagine how stress leaves your body in a grey colour.

With every in and exhale imagine how you breath in fresh air and breath out stress represented by grey coloured air.

With every breath out imagine how the air that you breath out is less grey and more blue-ish, as you are becoming more and more relaxed.

That’s the Blue Breathing Technique. Rather simple stress relieving breathing exercise, but can work wonders 😉

 

4-7-8 breathing technique

I read about this 4-7-8 breathing technique on Dr. Weil’s website. It’s a bit different exercise than the previous one, more intensive, involving counting

 

When to use the 4-7-8 technique?

So according to the website and the video below, this exercise is a rather powerful anti-anxiety tool, if you practice it for a few weeks.

After a few weeks you will be able to use it to help your relax in a stressful situation. You will also be able to notice other benefits such as lower heart rate and lower blood pressure, according to the site.

Other uses mentioned in the video below include using it for falling asleep or reduce cravings, although I did not try it for myself for these.

I did started using it daily since this week, so will let you know what I found after using it for a few weeks. 😉

A word of caution however, you should only practice it once a day and in the beginning you should not do more than 4 repetition at a time! Apparently it can cause light-headedness.

I did not experience this, but that could be because I am already using other types of breathing exercises.

 

How to use the 4-7-8 breathing technique for stress relief?

Instead of me explaining it to you, I’ll let the person do it who came up with it 😉 See the video here below:

I think it’s good to note that the exact counting does not matter, however the ratio between the breath in – holding – breath out does.

 

Deep Breathing technique

Deep breathing is one of the most basic breathing techniques you can do and it can be really helpful if you are not used to it.

It is also known as diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing although this can be a bit confusing. Of course you are not breathing with your belly.

When practicing deep breathing you release the diaphragm, a muscle located under your lungs. This allows your lungs to expand further, making your belly rise.

 

When to use deep breathing?

Well, pretty much any time you can, really. It’s great if you make it a habit to take deeper breaths. Similarly as previously mentioned, this can help in improving your heart rate and blood pressure and as I found it helps to improve your performance in sports as well.

Taking deep breaths helps you to get more energy and be more balanced once you get into sports, because your breathing get more shallow anyway.

There is a nice article on Mark’s Daily Apple, summarising some other benefits of deep breathing such as:

  • Improving conditions such as asthma and heart failures
  • Improving lung capacity
  • Releasing of a protective chemical to maintain airway integrity
  • Helps your body to shift in to parasympathetic state, which is a calmer more relaxed state
  • Improve gene activity concerning inflammation and the effects of oxidative stress

How to use deep breathing for relaxation and stress?

Deep breathing is rather simple, once you practiced it a bit 😉

  1. Take a comfy position as usual, sitting with straight back or laying down.
  2. Try placing one hand on your belly or near your belly, so you can feel it rising.
  3. Start breathing in and while doing so let your belly to expand and feel how your lungs are expanding and more air fills them than usual.
  4. You can do some counting in the meantime. Count to a number that feels natural while filling your lungs. The point here is to take a deep breath so don’t count to 1 or 2 but pick a higher number between 4 and 7. Something that feels good.
  5. Hold your breath for a second or two.
  6. Exhale for the same count as your inhaled.
  7. Hold your breath just as much as it feels natural.

Repeat the process until you are feeling more relaxed.

I typically do this breathing exercise or the Blue Breathing Technique for around 10-15 minutes.

In the beginning you will be happy probably if you can reach 3-5 minutes.

The more you practice the longer you will be able to do the exercise and the more effective it will become to help you relieve stress. Like all the exercises in this list, it’s a great natural stress reliever.

 

Zen breathing exercise – or how to practice Zazen?

zen_breathing_zazen

It’s rather funny, because while I was doing the research for this article, the more sources I looked up, the more ways of doing Zen breathing I found.

Technically every new source told me a new way regarding how to do zen breathing, regarding the breathing part. 🙂

Based on the similarities, I summarised what the method is and mentioned the sources so you can try different varieties of zen breathing.

 

When to use Zen breathing?

Well, I would definitely recommend practicing it when you have more time.

Based on the descriptions it requires some preparation and in the beginning good concentration as well.

Best to have the phone put on silent and the TV turned off.

Regarding the benefits for stress relief, most of the sources mention zen breathing as a crucial part of well being, due to the deep breathing benefits.

By opening up your diaphragm, you let energy flow in the lower parts of your body, instead of simply being stuck in the top.

If this energy stuck in the upper parts, it can cause tension in your neck, shoulders muscles and causing you to have an overwhelmed feeling, as explained in the video below.

How to practice Zazen and zen breathing

Even though the breathing part is different most of the time there are some similarities that all the sources agree on.

For practicing a zen breathing exercise (which is kind of part or the same as ‘Zazen’, the zen buddhist practice of meditation), you have to pay attention to your posture, how you sit, where is your chin directed and how do you hold your hands.

These seem to be important for practicing Zazen. I found this website’s description as the most detailed, with pictures and description for every important part of the practice and how to do it.

If you are the type who likes listening to information, I found a good video discussing Zazen how to breathe during the practice.

If you open the video on Youtube on the right side in the suggestions you can find the first part of the video, discussing the posture you should use for Zazen.

Don’t forget to turn on the subtitles on the youtube player by clicking on the ‘cc’ button, if you don’t speak Japanese 😉 Watch the video by clicking here.

When practicing Zazen and zen breathing, do not try to make it ‘right’ just do it.

There is an interesting book about Zen describing the whole philosophy and explaining why there is actually no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do Zazen

Good and very short read, if you would like to know more about Zen, it’ called Zen Mind, Beginner’s mind, check it out here.

Important: keep an open mind, you might read a few things that challenge your understanding of things.

So for the sake of practicality, this is how you can practice Zazen and zen breathing:

  1. Sit in the right position for Zazen. This can be either on the floor in the half-lotus or lotus position, or sitting on a chair with your feet on the ground.
  2. Make sure your hands have the ‘Cosmic Mudra’ position
  3. Make sure your back is straight, lower back in, chin pulled in your head aigned as an extension of your spine, reaching for the ceiling.
  4. Try tilting a bit to the left and right, back and forth, finding your ideal position that is comfortable to hold
  5. Make sure your tongue touches the upper part of your mouth slightly behind your upper front teeth. This will help in keeping your concentration.
  6. Start taking deep breath relaxing your abdominal area.
  7. As for counting, use 1 for breathing in and 2 for breathing out. Do this 10 times, paying attention to the numbers and than start over.

Good luck 😉

 

Tai Chi breathing exercises

tai_chi_breathing_exercises

Tai-chi is an old Chinese martial art, which recently got popular not necessarily for its martial art aspect but more for it’s perceived health benefits.

From personal experience I can say that it is a very nice little work-out from your whole body.

In Tai Chi you are basically doing different movement exercises, always keeping your weight on one leg at a time, while paying attention to your breath and moving your whole body, slowly in an unbroken flow.

It helps you move all the big muscles groups, involves breathing exercises and it’s a relaxing experience. All in all, a great natural stress reliever exercise.

As Harvard Health Publications put it, it’s ‘medication-in-motion’, low-impact (qua intensity) and slow-motion exercise. Some of the health benefits mentioned by the article and WebMD are:

  • Muscle strength – it can improve both lower and upper body strength
  • Flexibility
  • Balance
  • Aerobic conditioning
  • Improved circulation

According to WebMD some research even found that tai chi can improve your blood pressure and your cholesterol levels.

 

When to use tai chi as a relaxation exercise

I think it’s great to use Tai Chi as a breathing exercise when you are not doing enough sports and activities.

If you are a typical person who sits a lot in the office and at home sits even more, this one could be for you.

You can get two bird in one shot, because you get a good breathing exercise for stress relief and also have your daily dose of muscles stretching and movement for your body.

The best thing in it is that you can attend a class, learn the basics and than continue using it at home. You don’t need any equipment.

You can also do an online video course if you prefer staying home or don’t have a tai chi school in your area. There are lots of good resources online, below I’ll list a few.

 

How to do Tai Chi?

Well instead of trying to describe it for you how to do the techniques, I think it’s best of you check it from a pro.

Below is a nice video I found as an introduction to Tai chi (this was the least commercial one I could find:) ).

If you are interested in learning more about Tai Chi then you might want to a real course to learn the basics. After a quick scan on Udemy, I found this high rated course about Tai Chi.

Enjoy 😉

 

How to include breathing exercises in your daily routine?

I think just with any other type of stress relief exercise, you just need to make time for it.

I personally do breathing exercises every morning; they are part of my morning ritual. I mix it up a bit. Usually I do the Blue Breathing technique and either tai chi or the 4-7-8 breathing technique.

Doing breathing exercises in the morning helps me because sometimes I wake up with a stressed stomach. It helps me to relax the area and it’s also a great start your day.

If you are just starting with breathing exercises, I think the morning is the easiest time to start. You can just stay in bed to do it, easy.

It’s a superb feeling to meditate and relax after waking up. You are still in a drowsy feeling, which makes it easier to get in the flow of a relaxation technique.

All you need to do is wake up 15 minutes earlier. For this, make sure you go to bed on time.

 

In general these tips can help you in making stress relieving breathing exercises a routine:

  • Pick a time of day, whenever suits you best, when you can spare 10 minutes.
    • I would suggest pick a fix time. For example every morning and do another stress relieving breathing exercise during the day when you, well, feel stressed 🙂
  • Easiest to do breathing exercise for stress relief right after getting up or before going to bed
    • Everybody can spare two times 5-10 minutes to do the exercise. If you can’t, there is something wrong with your priorities or time management
  • When starting with breathing techniques for stress, give time for yourself to practice them and build them up.
  • Breathing exercises will get more effective over time, if you use them regularly
    • Also based on research, their long lasting health benefits will show after using them for 6-8 weeks at least, on daily bases.
  • In the beginning they can be tricky to master, be patient with yourself and just keep doing them.
    • Don’t stress about missing one or two sessions. Probably in the first two weeks or so there will be some days when you forget it, or wake up too late. It takes time to build up a new habit, don’t sweat it.
  • Start with shorter times, like 3-5 minutes and work it up from there.
  • It will come naturally; I also noticed on myself that my breathing session started rather short, they were around 5 minutes long. After a few weeks I was doing 8-10 minute session, without even consciously deciding to increase the length. After a time it simply feels better and easier to do the breathing exercises.

 

Well, that’s pretty much it what you need to about stress relieving breathing exercises in order to start using them. Later you can look up more advanced techniques and pay attention to the small details.

For now, the important things is to make a start.

Decide right now which one will you try, and do it right now! It will feel nice that you made the first step!

After you did the breathing exercise, write a comment below which breathing exercise will you try and what time of the day? When do you need them most?

If you are already using breathing exercises, what works best for you? If you have another cool one that you are using, share it with us, maybe other people will find it nice as well!

Relax and be well,

Istvan

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