4 easy breathing exercises for stress, anxiety and overall good health
Updated: Aug 8, 2022
I, like many people I know, have been struggling with periods of anxiety and stress. And when we are stressed or anxious, we tend to forget about breathing. Yes, it's something that happens any way, but the way we breath changes when we are in a fight or flight mode. In the below article I would like to highlight the importance of deep breathing for health and give 4 easy to practice breathing exercises throughout the day. I start my mornings with these four exercises and be kind to myself. If I can manage to do 20 minutes, great. If I manage to do only 5 minutes, also good. A good tip to enhance the breathing practice further is to diffuse or apply essential oils, that ground you and reduce the feelings of anxiety- like frankincense, cedarwood, sandalwood, rosemary, vetiver, juniper berry.
This is me 6am in the morning doing my breathing exercises outside.
I remind myself during the day to take those deep breaths or practice the deep breathing when:
I am driving (with eyes open :))
I am taking our dog out for a walk
I boil water for my tea
Why is deep breathing necessary?
Breathing occurs without you having to give really thought to it. When you breath in, your blood cells get oxygen and release carbon dioxide. It's carried through your body and exhaled.
When we are anxious we breath shallow and faster and often breath from the chest. Chest breathing causes an imbalance in oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your body, resulting in an increased heart rate, anxiety, dizziness, tensed muscles and other physical sensations.
When we breath deeply, using our belly (which is also called diaphragmatic breathing), we put our bodies in rest and digest mode, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Notice next time when you see a baby sleeping, how she/he breaths.
Focused deep breathing:
lowers blood pressure
improves concentration and focus
supports a strong immune system
reduces muscle tension, therefore may help with pain management
helps to make it easier to fall asleep
can improve your mood
A good starting point to put more focus on deep breathing is to practice belly breathing. We hopefully do that at night when we are in deep relaxed state of sleep.
It's good to determine first whether you are using your belly or chest for breathing.
Put one hand on your upper abdomen, near your waist. And put your other hand in the middle of your chest. Now take a few breaths and notice which hand raises the most.
To breath properly with your belly, your abdomen should expand when you breath it and contract when you breath out. Breath in through your nose and out through your nose
This breathing can be practiced anywhere and is very good to practice during the moments of stress and anxiety. It's also a good way to bring focus to the present and ground yourself here and now.
Alternate-Nostril Breathing (nadi shodhana)
I feel this breathing practice brings that extra needed air into my body and both hemispheres of my brain, bringing me into balance. This breathing technique involves breathing in through one nostril at a time, while blocking the other one and alternating between the nostrils.
Position your index and middle finger together gently on your forehead just above your eyebrows.
With your thumb close your right nostril.
Inhale deeply through your left nostril.
Close with your ring finger your left nostril and release your thumb from the right nostril as you breath out (you could also keep both of your nostrils closed and hold your breath for couple of seconds before you breath out).
Then as you have your ring finger closing the left nostril, breath in from the right nostril, then close your right nostril with thumb, release your left nostril and breath out.
Repeat 5-10 times. If you do feel a little bit lightheaded, take a break and breath normally through both nostrils.
I learnt about this breathing technique from Dr. Andrew Weil lecture at IIN school, where I study. This is a deep breath that I have practiced in the mornings as well as when I am driving. Dr. Andrew Weil prescribes it as a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.
Put the tip of your tongue gently behind your upper teeth against the ridge of the tissue for the duration of the breathing practice.
Exhale deeply through your mouth, making a whooshing sound.
Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose while counting to 4 in your head.
Then hold your breath for a count of 7.
And then exhale completely through your mouth to a count of 8, making a whooshing sound.
You can repeat this 5-10 times and also throughout the day (you can set yourself reminders on your phone if that helps).
Dr. Joe Dispenza breathing technique
I don't know if there is a specific name of this breathing technique, but I started practicing it when I wanted to find ways to support my healing from a brain surgery. I typically end my breathing practice with 5 or so below breaths. Here is a video how Dr. Joe Dispenza explains this breathing technique.
Sit comfortably on the chair, on the floor, or on the meditation pillow with your back straight.
You start breathing in long and slowly, tug in your perineum, then your lower abdomen, then your upper abdomen.
You move your attention while still keeping your lower body pulled in and tight, to your lungs, to your throat, to your head and then above your head. You can imagine, that you are pulling the energy through your spinal fluid from your sacrum slowly up to the top of your head, while you are taking a breath in. Remember, where you put your focus is where you put your energy.
And then you release and breath out.
Repeat 5 times or so. If you feel dizzy, take a break and breath normally.
You might want to lie down after this breathing on the floor and sense how your body is feeling and whether you notice any change in energy.
There are of course many more deep breathing techniques to practice, but if you haven't put your focus on deep breathing exercises in the past, above is a good start.
If you are looking to reduce stress, anxiety in your life, wanting to understand how to better support your body during stressful life, don't hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for health coaching.