Breathing exercises for relaxation and stress management (also known as relaxation training) is any method, process, procedure, or activity that helps a person to relax; to attain a state of increased calmness; or otherwise reduce levels of pain, anxiety, stress, or anger. People respond to stress in different ways, namely, by becoming overwhelmed, depressed, or both. Yoga, QiGong, Tai Chi, and Pranayama that include deep breathing tend to calm people who are overwhelmed by stress. People who encounter both symptoms simultaneously, feeling depressed in some ways and overexcited in others, may do best by walking or performing yoga techniques that are focused on strength. Siddha Spirituality of Swami Hardas Life System appeals to our valuable readers to read this article carefully and adopt breathing exercises for relaxation.
Breathing exercises Background
Research has indicated that removing stress helps to increase a person’s health. Research released in the 1980s indicated stronger ties between stress and health and showed benefits from a wider range of relaxation techniques than had been previously known. This research received national media attention, including a New York Times article in 1986.
Uses of breathing exercises relaxation techniques
People use relaxation techniques for the following reasons, among others:
Breathing exercises Techniques
Various techniques are used by individuals to improve their state of relaxation. Some of the methods are performed alone; some require the help of another person (often a trained professional); some involve movement, some focus on stillness; while other methods involve different elements.
Certain relaxation techniques are known as “formal and passive relaxation exercises” are generally performed while sitting or lying quietly, with minimal movement and involve “a degree of withdrawal”. These include:
- Autogenic training
- Deep breathing
- Guided imagery
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Transcendental Meditation technique
- ACEM meditation
- Yoga Nidra
- Zen Yoga
Movement-based relaxation methods incorporate exercises such as walking, gardening, yoga, Tai chi, Qigong, and more. Some forms of bodywork are helpful in promoting a state of increased relaxation. Examples include:
- Feldenkrais Method
- Reflexology, and
Some relaxation methods can also be used during other activities, for example, autosuggestion and prayer. At least one study has suggested that listening to certain types of music, particularly new-age music and classical music, can increase feelings associated with relaxation, such as peacefulness and a sense of ease.
A technique growing in popularity is flotation therapy, which is the use of a float tank in which a solution of Epsom salt is kept at skin temperature to provide effortless floating. Research in the USA and Sweden has demonstrated a powerful and profound relaxation after twenty minutes. In some cases, floating may reduce pain and stress and has been shown to release endorphins.
Even actions as simple as walking in the park have been shown to aid feelings of relaxation, regardless of the initial reason for the visit.
Why controlled breathing?
Controlled breathing exercises can help keep your mind and body in shape, by helping to lower blood pressure, promote feelings of calm and relaxation, and relieve stress.
While the long-term benefits of breathing exercises haven’t been studied at length, many experts encourage using the breath as a means of increasing awareness, mindfulness, and putting yourself on the path to Zen.
Ready to harness the power of your inhales and exhales? Here are six expert-approved ways to relax using controlled breathing exercises borrowed from centuries-old yoga and meditation traditions.
Equal breathing or ‘Sama Vritti’
This breathing exercise is especially effective before bed. According to yoga instructor Rebecca Pacheco, it works similarly to counting sheep.
“If you’re having trouble falling asleep, this breath can help take your mind off the racing thoughts or whatever might be distracting you,” she says.
How to do it: Begin by sitting or lying down in a comfortable position. Your eyes can be open or closed. Inhale for 4 counts, and then exhale for 4 counts.
All inhalations and exhalations should be made through your nose, which adds a slight, natural resistance to your breath. Once you get these basics down, try 6–8 counts per breath.
Abdominal breathing technique
The abdominal breathing technique can be really helpful before experiencing a particularly stressful event like taking an exam or giving a big presentation. Oy, our hearts are pounding just thinking about it.
However, Pacheco said, “Those who operate in a stressed state all the time might be a little shocked by how hard it is to control the breath.” So, if the pacing doesn’t come naturally to you at first, don’t sweat it. Just keep practicing.
How to do it: Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Take a deep breath in through your nose, allowing the diaphragm (not your chest) to inflate with enough air to create a slight stretching sensation in your lungs. Slowly exhale.
According to physiologist and breathing expert Alison McConnell, taking 6–10 deep, slow breaths per minute for 10 minutes each day using this breathing technique can help reduce your heart rate and blood pressure.
Keep at it for 6 to 8 weeks, and those benefits might stick around even longer.
Progressive muscle relaxation
The progressive muscle relaxation method works best when you’re sitting at home, in your office chair, or even in your car. By intentionally tensing and then relaxing each muscle group one at a time, you can nix excess tension from head to toe.
How to do it: Close your eyes and focus on tensing and relaxing each muscle group for 2 to 3 seconds. Start with your feet and toes, and then move up to your knees, thighs, glutes, chest, arms, hands, neck, jaw, and eyes. Maintain deep, slow breaths the entire time.
Having trouble staying on track? Psychologist and anxiety and panic specialist Patricia Farrell suggest inhaling through your nose, holding for 5 counts while tensing your muscles, and then exhaling through your mouth as you release those muscles.
If holding your breath ever feels uncomfortable, tone it down to just a few seconds.
Alternate nostril breathing or Nadi Shodhana
Experiencing major deadline pressure at work? Try alternate nostril breathing to refocus and reenergize. According to Pacheco, it can help and make you feel more awake and alert. “It’s almost like a cup of coffee,” she says.
How to do it: Start by sitting in a comfortable meditative pose. Hold out your dominant hand and press the tips of your pointer and middle fingers into your palm, leaving your ring finger, pinky finger, and thumb extended.
Bring your hand up in front of your face and press your thumb on the outside of one nostril. Inhale deeply through your open nostril. At the peak of your inhalation, release your thumb, press your ring finger on the outside of your other nostril, and exhale.
Continue this pattern for 1–2 minutes before switching sides so that you inhale through the nostril that you originally used to exhale, and vice versa. Spend equal amounts of time inhaling and exhaling through both nostrils.
4-7-8 Breathing exercises
This breathing exercise is an alternative to equal breathing that can also help you fall asleep faster. It has roots in yoga’s pranayama, which is all about helping people learn how to gain control over their breath.
How to do it: Begin by sitting or lying down in a comfortable position. Your eyes can be open or closed. Press the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth, slightly open your mouth, and exhale until you reach the bottom of your breath.
Close your mouth and quietly inhale through your nose for 4 counts. Then hold your breath for 7 counts. Finally, exhale very slowly so that it takes a total of 8 counts to return to the bottom of your breath.
Repeat for 4 full breaths, and work your way up to 8 breaths over time.
Skull-shining breath or Kapalabhati
If alternate nostril breathing is like a cup of coffee, think of Kapalabhati breathing like a shot of espresso, she added.
How to do it: Begin sitting in an upright position with good posture and your hands on your knees. Take a long, slow inhale through your nose. Then exhale powerfully (also through your nose) by contracting your lower belly.
Your body will naturally inhale again, so focus mainly on your forceful exhales as you continue this fiery breathing technique. Once you’re comfortable with the abdominal contraction component, up your pace to 1 inhale-exhale every 2 seconds for a total of 10 breaths.
Resonant breathing, also called coherent breathing, can help you calm anxiety and get into a relaxed state. To try it yourself:
- Lie down and close your eyes.
- Gently breathe in through your nose, mouth closed, for a count of six seconds.
- Don’t fill your lungs too full of air.
- Exhale for six seconds, allowing your breath to leave your body slowly and gently. Don’t force it.
- Continue for up to 10 minutes.
- Take a few additional minutes to be still and focus on how your body feels.
Lion’s breath involves exhaling forcefully. To try the lion’s breath:
- Get into a kneeling position, crossing your ankles and resting your bottom on your feet. If this position isn’t comfortable, sit cross-legged.
- Bring your hands to your knees, stretching out your arms and your fingers.
- Take a breath in through your nose.
- Breathe out through your mouth, allowing yourself to vocalize “ha.”
- During exhale, open your mouth as wide as you can and stick your tongue out, stretching it down toward your chin as far as it will go.
- Focus on the middle of your forehead (third eye) or the end of your nose while exhaling.
- Relax your face as you inhale again.
- Repeat the practice up to six times, changing the cross of your ankles when you reach the halfway point.
Breathing exercises: Guided meditation
You can practice guided meditation by sitting or lying in a cool, dark, comfortable place, and relaxing. Then, listen to calming recordings while relaxing your body and steadying your breathing.
Guided meditation recordings help take you through the steps of visualizing a calmer, less stressed reality. It can also help you gain control over intrusive thoughts that trigger anxiety.