Breathing exercises can help with stress and anxiety, but they are also great for relaxation. Still, many people don’t know its importance.
So, here are the experts’ insights about the purpose of breathing exercises and how it works.
Dr. Kelly Kessler
Licensed Physical Therapist | Founder, Optimal You Health and Wellness, LLC
Breathing is a natural body function that is often just running in the background of your day. So why is there so much hype around performing breathing exercises?
Conscious awareness of breath and intentionally altering the patterns of your breath have profound effects on decreasing muscular tension, improving sleep, reducing stress levels, and improving the clarity of thought.
Breathing exercises are powerful tools in shifting your nervous system
How does this work? Conscious awareness of your breath and breathing exercises are powerful tools in shifting your nervous system from a state of fight/flight/freeze to a state of rest/digest/restore.
Your Autonomic Nervous System controls all processes in your body, including your heart rate, digestion, regulation of organ function, sexual arousal, and many others.
There are two branches within the Autonomic Nervous System:
- The Sympathetic Nervous System (fight, flight, freeze)
- The Parasympathetic Nervous System (rest, digest, restore)
Daily stressors, including work, family, or current events, contribute to chronically high-stress levels, which shift the Autonomic Nervous System into a sympathetic response.
Intentionally changing the rhythm of your breath stimulates the vagus nerve (an integral part of the Parasympathetic Nervous System) to trigger the parasympathetic system (rest, digest, restore) to become stimulated. This shifts your mind and body into a state of relaxation, healing, and clarity.
Related: 9 Ways to Relax and Calm Your Mind
It can shift your mind into a meditative state
Breathing exercises are effective for not only their physiological quality in shifting the nervous system into a restorative state but also for their ability to shift your mind into a meditative state.
The meditative properties of breathing promote the release of hormones in the brain, including dopamine, DHEA, endorphins, serotonin, GABA, and many others. These are responsible for improved sleep, improved focus, increased mood, and a feeling of calm and happiness.
Just like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz’ always had her ruby slippers to return home, you too have a powerful tool with you at all times to bring your mind and body “back home”… your breath.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Choosing Therapy
It is a great way to relax the body
Deep breathing exercises are a great way to relax the body. Part of the reason for that is when you breathe deeply and slowly, it impacts all areas of the body. It is also a great way to alleviate stress, which can frequently trigger anxiety.
When people are anxious, their heart rate goes up, and their blood pressure can go up too. Anxiety can cause muscle tension and headaches.
It can slow the heart rate and help lower blood pressure
Deep, slow breaths slow the heart rate and help lower blood pressure. It increases oxygen to the brain. When people focus on controlling their breathing and how their body functions, it is an excellent way to distract from whatever the source of the anxiety is.
Deep breathing can help people stay in the present rather than focusing on the source of the stress. Increased oxygen flow to the brain also increases function in the Parasympathetic Nervous System, creating a feeling of calm and helping to relax.
When people experience panic attacks or severe anxiety, they often take frequent, shallow breaths from their chest area, interrupting the consistent flow of oxygen throughout the body.
It helps people of all ages, even with health issues
Deep breathing is also a powerful tool because anybody can do it. No special equipment is needed. It can be done anywhere and anytime. People of all ages and even with health issues can still take slow deep breaths.
There are a variety of techniques for deep breathing exercises. People can breathe through their noses. Another source of deep breathing is through the mouth.
Finally, people can breathe through their bellies. Belly exercises are done from a prone position. Place one hand around your belly and another hand on top of your chest. They take slow, deep breaths.
This exercise aims to feel your hand near your belly to move up while simultaneously your chest remains stationary.
Mental Health Therapist | Professor | Motivational Speaker | Author
It calms you down
Calm your body by slowing your heart rate — by pretending to blow bubbles! Who doesn’t love to blow bubbles? How on earth does this calm you down?
The key is to exhale longer and slower than you inhale. Start by breathing in for a four-count, hold your breath for a seven-count, and then breathe out for an eight-count (like you are blowing a bubble).
Your heart rate will synchronize with your respiration rate — which results in your heartbeat slowing, helping you to feel calm, relaxed, and de-stressed.
A stressful mind creates a stressful body; a calm mind creates a calm body. Focused breathing calms mental activity and results in overall physical relaxation.
Take a one-minute break from stress with these easy steps:
- Close your eyes and concentrate on your nose
- Take a deep breath in a while, focusing on the air entering your nostrils
- Slowly exhale while focusing on the air passing out of your nostrils
- Repeat several times for one minute or more.
Breathe Belly Breathe
Need to calm your nerves? Slow your heart rate by reducing anxiety by belly-breathing, a relaxation technique known as diaphragmatic breathing.
Begin by resting one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. Breathe in through your nose, making sure the hand on your stomach rises and the hand on your chest remains in the same position.
Contract your stomach muscles while breathing out through your nose or mouth; repeat for 5 to 10 minutes each day – or whenever you feel stressed or anxious.
Owner, Breath.Dance LLC
It is the key to unlocking the disruptions in the Sympathetic Nervous System
Breathwork is the key to unlocking the disruptions in the Sympathetic Nervous System. These disruptions activate the fight-or-flight response, which triggers many physiological and psychological reactions to the world around you. (AKA trauma)
Diaphragmatic breath activates the vagus nerve stimulating your stimulus-response mechanism, which sends a message to the Parasympathetic Nervous System that you are safe, which triggers a hormone release of serotonin and dopamine, creating a sense of well being.
Diaphragmatic breath also sends heightened oxygen levels into the lungs, which circulates through your entire body, with high oxygen levels reaching the brain.
The benefits of hyperoxygenation include bridging from the left (analytical brain) to the right (creative brain), which allows you to step out of thinking into being more fully present.
This scientific physical response to focused breath creates the space to enter into an altered state of elevated consciousness that can help you to become the observer on all levels of experience, thus opening a pathway to creative solutions and the ability to process profound emotional experiences such as trauma responses, depression, anxiety, grief and more.
It helps to eliminate stress and cortisol secretions
Furthermore, the action of the breath helps to eliminate stress and cortisol secretions, giving the body freedom to alleviate joint and muscular pain and relief for hypertension.
In lay terms, conscious breath helps calm you down, helping you respond rather than react to your external stimuli.
Breath practices to try at home:
There are multiple breath practices you can reach for the desired effect. A gentle three-part yogic breath or circulatory breath will help to calm you down if you are in a state of heightened anxiety.
A deep diaphragmatic breath in through the nose and out through pursed lips will activate the right brain and quickly send you into an altered state to release tension and open your awareness.
A strong breath in and out through the nose with focus on the exhale with belly (diaphragm) pumping will bring heat and energy into the body and mind if you feel tired.
Breath visualizations will instill a meditative state and help with sleep
Focused breath to a specific part of your body will help alleviate physical and emotional pain.
The above examples are just a few. The most potent aspect of breathwork is that this tool is always with you and is only a breath away.
We take between 20,000 and 30,000 breaths every day, and breathwork is one of the most underutilized healing tools. But tapping into the benefits of breathing exercises involves more than simply taking deep breaths.
It can help reduce anxiety and provide a sense of clarity and calm
Deep, slow, and intentional breathing, particularly with a longer exhale component, can help reduce anxiety, provide a sense of clarity and calm, and “extend the fuse” when you feel consumed by anger or overwhelming stress.
I like the 4-7-8 method that was popularized by Dr. Andrew Weil. That’s where you inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds.
While the numbers are a bit arbitrary, a longer exhale can help activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System (think, rest, and digest), increase GABA activity in the brain (that’s the chemical that tells us it’s time to calm down), and increase alpha wave activity on a type of brain scan called an EEG (alpha waves are a physiologic marker of calm and relaxation).
It can produce compression on the vagus nerves
Other types of breathing, like resistance breathing, or pranayama (commonly practiced in a yoga session), can produce compression on the vagus nerves that run down the sides of your neck. It’s another way to activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System and reduce anxiety at the moment.
Dr. Adam Bataineh
Chief Medical Officer, Span Health
It improves heart rate variability
Heart rate variability, or HRV, is the variation in the interval between consecutive heartbeats. It is under the influence of the Autonomic Nervous System or ANS.
The Autonomic Nervous System is made up of two branches:
- The Parasympathetic Nervous System
- The Sympathetic Nervous System
Simply put, heart rate variability is regulated by the autonomic nervous system via a region in the base of the brain called the hypothalamus, which can either relax or stimulate the various body functions. That is dictated by the external stimuli ranging from sleep to exercise.
There is solid evidence worth noting that heart rate variability is improved through breathing exercises.
A recent randomized control trial, one that was conducted in 2021, evaluated the best breathing technique to improve heart rate variability.
Participants who attempted breathing at six breaths per minute — along with those doing soothing rhythm breathing — achieved a significant increase in heart rate variability compared to the group that watched relaxing nature videos or listened to soft music.
Keep that in mind when you meditate. It isn’t just the serenity that’s beneficial. It’s the actual breathing.
It decreases stress levels
One popular and effective form of slow deep diaphragmatic breathing exercise is yoga. Evaluations of yoga training have shown improvement in heart rate variability and decreased stress levels among those who do at least 60 minutes of yoga per week.
Global Head of Yoga, Shvasa.com
It could enhance vagal activity
Breathing/Respiration is one of the very few physiological functions which is mainly under autonomic (involuntary) control but can be regulated to some extent consciously (by voluntary control).
This conscious control has made it possible to use breath as a tool to access the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and, through the ANS, access many organ systems. Conscious Diaphragmatic Breathing is part of the Heart Rate Variable (HRV) feedback loop that improves vagal tone.
Diaphragmatic breathing does this by stimulating the relaxation response of the Parasympathetic Nervous System, and through the PNS, breathing also influences other physiological functions like endocrinal, gastrointestinal, circulatory, excretory, etc. The change in breathing rhythm can increase or decrease the heart/pulse rate/ HRV.
Yogis have been using the breath as a tool to affect the mind for millenniums and have observed breath controls’ unexpected outcomes on the physical and physiological systems of the body.
Many recent studies reaffirmed this timeless wisdom by showing that slow abdominal breathing reduced the “fight-or-flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system and could enhance vagal activity.
Studies also reveal that individuals with a higher HRV (which represents healthy vagal tone) showed lower biomarkers for stress, increased psychological and physical resilience, and better cognitive function.
Breath in Hatha Yoga
In Yogic physiology, the breath is an excellent way of accessing and controlling “Prana,” the life force. And Prana is an excellent means of influencing the “Chitta,” the mind.
This approach of accessing the mind through the Prana is an alternative, and most often a better option, to cognitive approaches/modern psychological approaches to the mind and mental health.
Yoga, especially Hatha yoga, involves many practices targeting the Prana in the body. These practices include restricting prana flow restriction in certain parts of the body and specific pranic channels of the body using techniques like Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha, and Kundalini kriyas.
Breath in Asana Practice
Apart from the more obvious objective, that of a healthy physical body, Asanas are also helpful in connecting, improving, and controlling the breath.
The training in asanas is to breathe in and out against the physical restriction of the chest and abdominal cavities in various spine bends and unusual body positions like inversions.
This training enhances one’s ability to breathe consciously and completely. The rhythmic breathing while holding the asanas also contributes to overcoming instinctive nervousness.
Modern Breath Exercises
Similar to the classical Pranayama practices of Hatha yoga, the various breathing techniques in seated positions facilities lower breath rates and enhance CO₂ tolerance. CO₂ tolerance levels indicate how well a person can tolerate Carbon Dioxide in their system how well they can utilize oxygen.
CO₂ levels can be influenced by good breathing habits (slow, complete breathing, and breathing through the nostrils only). CO₂ levels are highly correlated to state anxiety, a person’s predisposition to feel stressed, anxious, and not in control.
Integrative Nutritional Health Coach, Functionally Autoimmune LLC
It is the key to keeping your body happy and healthy
Breathing is a natural response our body requires for life. This is completed millions of times per day without any effort from you.
However, breathing is so much more powerful than this. The simple act of focusing on the breath can bring you from fight or flight, the high-stress response to rest and relaxation, low-stress response.
We live hectic, stressful lives and are often overstressed. When this happens, we unintentionally hold our breath and increase our bodies’ stress response increasing cortisol levels.
To reduce your body’s stress response
To reduce your body’s stress response throughout the day, short, intentional breathing is the key. This also reduces our blood flow, reduces the oxygen content in the body, and slows digestion.
The way to do this is by my short five-step process:
- Find a quiet calm space.
- Close your eyes and be in the moment. (If driving, skip this step)
- Take a slow long deep breath into capacity. (Meaning you can not inhale further)
- Hold this breath for the count of three.
- Exhale slow and controlled for a count of eight. (This should be longer than your inhale)
Repeat these steps three times.
By conducting this exercise several times throughout the day, you will reduce your stress response, increase cellular oxygenation, improve digestion and cortisol levels.
Our bodies require oxygen for survival, cellular repair, metabolism, and so much more. Our bodies also produce a waste product called Carbon Dioxide.
When breathing, you bring in the oxygen life source and release the waste Carbon Dioxide. Breathing is the key to keeping your body happy and healthy.
Dr. Demetris Elia
It is great for someone trying to take control of their Sympathetic Nervous System
Beep breathing is an exercise that has been utilized for centuries in various ways, from yoga to martial arts and meditation. Although each has a different reason for using it, the mechanisms involved are the same.
The story begins in the nervous system and specifically the autonomic nervous system. As the name implies, we do not have much control over it. Instead, it is designed to respond in set ways depending on the stimuli we receive from the environment.
The Autonomic Nervous System is divided into two main parts—the Parasympathetic and Sympathetic Nervous Systems.
The sympathetic is responsible for our fight or flight response. For instance, when being chased by a lion, you want your eyesight to be acute and your blood rushing to your muscles to run as fast as possible.
This is achieved by dilating your eyes pupils and increasing your heart rate. We do not consciously control these actions but rather “just happen” due to the stimulation.
The parasympathetic is called the “rest and digest system.” Just like the name implies, it aids in relaxation and digestion. Although this is a simplistic way of looking at all the autonomic nervous system functions, it is easy to pertain to their primary functions.
One of the Parasympathetic Nervous Systems’ jobs is to counter the sympathetic and keep it in check. In our earlier being chased by the lion, you want your sympathetic system to kick in, so you have the best chances of survival.
However, you don’t want these changes, pupil dilation, and increased heart rate to remain when the threat is eliminated. That’s when the parasympathetic system comes in to shut down the sympathetic and signal the end of the crisis.
As you see, keeping the two systems working in harmony is essential for our survival. In todays’ society, people get stuck in a sympathetic system loop.
The constant stress of our busy lives and reduced time create a dominance of the sympathetic system when it starts getting into overdrive, and the parasympathetic system cannot control it.
An easy way to manipulate the Autonomic Nervous System is through breathing patterns. Although we are not wired in a way that allows us just to flip a switch and everything changes, beep breathing gives us an indirect way to control everything.
Just like our eyes and heart are directly associated with the Autonomic Nervous System, so are our lungs. When we try to run away from the lion, our breathing increases in frequency and becomes more shallow.
While we are resting, our breathing is slow and deep. As humans, we can consciously control our breathing, which means with the proper training and techniques, we are able to alter the state of our Autonomic Nervous System.
What do Navy seals and monks have in common?
I bet you can quest the answer to this question by now. Both the navy seals and monks that practice meditation, use breathing techniques to alter their bodies’ state of being.
By controlling their breathing, they are able to change their bodies’ physiological responses from a state of alert and panic into a state of ease and relaxation.
The benefits of this are different with each application. Like the navy seals, some are able to think clearly in times of high stress and not succumb to reactive actions.
The martial artist can concentrate on the hit he is delivering to be fast and precise. The Yogi uses breathing techniques to induce relaxation in the body and achieve a deeper stretch.
And finally, the monks are constantly using deep breathing to explore the brain/body’s actual capacity through meditation.
As I mentioned earlier, our breathing patterns are directly connected with our conscious mind and the Autonomic Nervous System.
Innately, we are wired to use the large muscle called the diaphragm to breathe. This large muscle sits between the abdominal area and the chest cavity. Every time it contracts, it increases the chest space.
This change in volume decreases the atmospheric pressure in the lungs and causes air to flow into them. Next time you observe a baby, you will notice their belly extending every time they breathe.
That is the most efficient way to breathe and is controlled by the Parasympathetic Nervous System and conscious mind.
On the other hand, when in a state of alarm and our Sympathetic Nervous System is active, we recruit smaller muscles in the chest wall to help raise the chest and create a forced environment for the exact change in pressure to draw air in.
This takes up a lot of energy and is not as efficient as Diaphragmatic Breathing. It requires less energy, provides relaxation, and packs a punch for the voice to come out. Great singers try to take advantage of this efficiency of Diaphragmatic Breathing every time they make a run.
So, in short, deep breathing exercises are great for someone trying to take control of their Sympathetic Nervous System. Being able to control your Autonomic Nervous System can be an ace up your sleeve when the situation calls for it, whether due to prolonged stress and sympathetic dominance or just to acquire a new skill like the navy seals.
Dr. Hillary O’Connor
Doctor of Physical Therapy | Owner, The Wellness PT
To bring the ribcage back into alignment
The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle that sits below the lungs within the ribcage structure. It is the muscle that supports us in breathing. This muscle is different in size from left to right due to the liver on the right side living under the diaphragm.
This means the right side is bigger and stronger than the left side. The average person breathes 20,000+ times a day. The right side of the diaphragm gets used more to pull air into the body due to its size and strength.
This can create tension or pull on the ribcage. Typically the left ribcage will flare up and out due to this pull from daily breathing. The purpose of breathing exercises is to bring the ribcage back into alignment, re-dome the diaphragm to allow for optimal breathing patterns, and enable the body to become more rested and relaxed.
When the diaphragm is in the optimal position, the body can move how it is meant to. During breathing exercises, the breath should be felt from the throat, throughout the entire ribcage, and down into the pelvic floor muscles (the muscles felt when sitting on a bike seat).
Some nerves run along the back of the ribcage connected to the body’s fight-or-flight nervous system. When the ribcage gets pulled out of alignment, these nerves can become squished, causing the fight or flight mode to stay on.
Allows the body to come into a more rested and relaxed state of being
This pours stress hormones into our system because the body thinks it is in constant danger due to squishing nerves. Breathing exercises can create more space for those nerves. This allows the body to come into a more rested and relaxed state of being.
Dr. Bryan Bruno
Medical Director, Mid City TMS
It can bring more oxygen and increase the release of toxins with Carbon Dioxide
Breathing exercises have been used for centuries in many different practices to relax the body. It is also known as Diaphragmatic Breathing; these techniques affect your entire body by bringing in more oxygen and increasing the release of toxins with Carbon Dioxide.
They can help you relax by lowering the effects of the stress hormone cortisol. Breathing techniques can also reduce blood pressure, reduce tension, and regulate other bodily functions.
It can help you cope with post-traumatic stress disorder
These exercises can help you cope with post-traumatic stress disorder, improve core muscle memory, and improve your ability to tolerate vigorous exercise.
Learning different breathing techniques can be a beneficial daily practice. One technique involves relaxing your shoulders, placing one hand on your stomach and one on your chest.
Next, inhale through your nose for two seconds, and feel the air movement throughout your body. Finally, breathe out for two seconds while pressing on your abdomen.
Another technique involves inhaling slowly through the nostrils. Then, breathing out through pursed lips as slowly as possible. The exhale should take twice as long as the inhale.
While these techniques may seem simple, it can take practice to become fully present during the exercise, especially for individuals with anxiety.
It can help people with stressful lives practice mindfulness and self-care
Often, busy individuals forget to slow down during their day. Practicing breathing techniques can help people with stressful lives practice mindfulness and self-care; including a few minutes of meditative breathing during the morning or night is beneficial to your routine while decreasing anxiety and stress.
Yoga Therapist and Yoga Teacher, Living Now Yoga
To impact the practitioner’s very beingness
The purpose of breathing exercises is to impact the practitioner’s very beingness in precise, intended, and helpful ways. Though that sounds pretty general, skillfully employed breath exercises are stunningly specific.
To understand this, we need to start with a different question. In what way(s) does the breath affect a practitioner’s beingness? Let’s look at two clear examples of how the breath interplays with the nervous system.
From there, we can offer up examples of breathing exercises that go hand-in-hand with that understanding.
There are nerve fibers in the upper lungs that stimulate the “revving of our engines” (i.e., stimulating our Sympathetic Nervous System, the SNS.) While nerve fibers in the lower lungs stimulate the “calming of our engines” (i.e., the Parasympathetic Nervous System, the PSNS.)
It stimulates the nerve fibers in the lower lungs
Persons with anxiety are usually breathing into their upper lungs, which looks like shoulder breathing. Their breath habit is intertwined with their anxiety experience because breathing brings forth fight or flight.
Therefore, when working with students with anxiety, we often focus on breathing exercises that invite breath movements into the abdomen. This stimulates the nerve fibers in the lower lungs, which creates calming in the nervous system.
It revs up and quiets our nervous system
Similarly, the inhale (and especially a quick inhale) revs up our nervous system. Whereas an exhale (particularly a slow exhale) quiets our nervous system.
Once again, just as an example, persons with anxiety are usually in the habit of a “quickly sucked-in inhale” and a “fast-blast of an exhale.” This pattern of breathing, over time and throughout their day, elicits fight or flight.
For this reason, when working with students with this particular breath and energy pattern, we often focus on exercises that slow the breathing in general and especially slow and lengthen the exhale. This brings forth the rest and digests aspect of our beingness.
To review, in the above examples, we worked with directing the movement of respiration and the length of inhaling vs. the length of exhaling to affect the nervous system in intentional ways and for the unique needs of a given student.
In the beginning, I said that the purpose of breathing exercises is to impact the practitioner’s very beingness. Yes, our breath can literally be harnessed to uplift us, ground us, heat us, cool us, and more.
Breath is our first access-point to life and our primary, ongoing access-point to life. It is said that “The breath is our first mother” (Ancient Indian teaching/author unknown).
By learning to work with our breath in intentional, skillful ways through appropriately chosen breath exercises, we can optimize our felt experience of being alive.
Bara Sapir, MA
Integrative Life Coach and Full Potential Educator, City Test Prep
It replicates being relaxed and reduces anxiety
While the act of inhaling and exhaling is necessary for life and happens whether we’re aware of it or not, Intentional Deep Breathing, often called Diaphragmatic Breathing, slows us down, replicates feeling relaxed, and has a quick profound effect of reducing anxiety.
We introduce several breathing techniques in our practice and encourage our clients to experiment and discover which ones work the best for them.
It increases the oxygen supply in our brains
Biologically, when we breathe deeper, we increase the oxygen supply in our brains. This stimulates the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which governs our relaxation.
Intentionally breathing slowly also focuses our awareness away from the worrisome stimulus and brings our awareness to the present moment and our body. The opposite, incidentally, is also true. When we increase our breathing, we activate and feel more energized.
Abdominal Breathing is a deep breathing technique that often involves counting while inhaling and exhaling. Counting and focusing on the body’s breathing process (following the breath) prompts us to slow down (as I described above).
Nostril Breathing is based on a yogic practice, which tracks the breath and isolates inhaling through the left or right nostril. Alternate Nostril Breathing includes a repetition of inhaling through one nostril and exhaling through the other.
It calms and center the mind and relax the body
Always make sure to inhale through the nostril you just exhaled out of. This technique has been known to calm and center the mind and relax the body.
Another excellent breathing exercise, paired with some visualization and physical activity, is the Jaw Drop. First, settle into a comfortable seated or standing pose, and bring your attention to your jaw.
Now, relax your jaw as much as you can, loosening it, and then imagine it dropping to the floor. This stimulates the Vagus nerve, which interfaces with the parasympathetic system, counteracts the fight-or-flight response.
The act of slowing down and visualizing also promotes deep breathing, supporting the same system and promoting relaxation. As you take a breath in, pause for 3 – 4 seconds, and then exhale for twice as long through the nose.
One of my favorite breathing practices is Heart Breathing, based on the work done through Heart Math. This is a quick process that I recommend doing anytime and can easily be integrated into a daily routine.
Like meditation, it acts as a method to gain a deeper awareness and a sense of calm. Is it necessary?
Below are the directions of Heart Breathing.
Step 1: Heart Focus
Focus your attention on the area around your heart, the area in the center of your chest. If you prefer, the first couple of times you try it, place your hand over your heart, and if it’s helpful, your other hand on the belly for grounding and a kind of heart-body connection and to help focus attention in the heart area.
Step 2: Heart Breathing
Breathe deeply but normally. You may feel that your breath is coming in and going out through your heart area. Imagine it is. As you inhale, feel as if your breath is flowing in through the heart, and as you exhale, feel it leaving through this area.
Breathe slowly and casually, a little deeper than usual. Continue breathing with ease until you find a natural inner rhythm that feels good to you. You may feel a shift here.
Step 3: Heart Feeling
As you maintain your heart focus and breathing, activate a positive feeling. Recall a positive sense, a time when you felt good inside, and take a moment to re-experience the feeling.
It can be anything. One of the easiest ways to generate a positive, heart-based feeling is to remember a special place you’ve been to or the love you feel for a close friend or family member or treasured pet. This is a lovely grounding step.
Intentional Breathing provides an experience that promotes feeling calm, focused, proactive, compassionate, and present. Results are fairly immediate, though, and each person can feel the shifts as needed and over time. Plan accordingly based on achieving their desired feeling state.
Founder, Uplifted Yoga
It can have numerous positive mental and physical effects
In today’s fast-paced world, remembering to breathe can often be impossible. Sure, we’re breathing all the time, but having awareness and focus on your breath can have numerous positive mental and physical effects.
The key is understanding how to use your breath to support your health and wellness. As a certified yoga instructor, this is something I teach and practice on a daily basis.
It can help you focus during moments of stress and anxiety
Although it is impossible to eliminate all stress in your life, regulating your stress through breath can be highly beneficial. One of the most direct ways to maintain focus during moments of stress and anxiety is to use your breath.
Healthy breathing is all about mindful breathing. Breathing exercises (also called Pranayama in yoga) can promote relaxation by mimicking how your body reacts when it relaxes.
It can signal to your brain that you need to slow down
Deep breathing can slow your heart rate and signal to your brain that you need to slow down both physically and mentally. You need to be focused and aware of your breath, or you won’t see the benefits.
On the contrary, shallow breathing can create unnecessary fear and anxiety, as a lack of oxygen signals to your body that you’re in danger. There is a saying by the founder of Gestalt therapy, Fritz Perls MD—fear is excitement without the breath.
This means that excitement and fear are closely linked, so an activated nervous system can quickly turn into fear without the breath. But that means you can also reduce fear by breathing.
Apa Japa is a yogic breathing technique about observing the breath and can ease anxiety. It is an effortless way to check in on your breath at any time of day. Sometimes, stress and anxiety can be so consuming that we forget how we are actually breathing.
By developing an awareness of your own breath, you may start to notice that your breath can calm on its own.
Here’s how to do Apa Japa:
- Make sure you’re in a comfortable position, either standing, sitting, or laying down, and close your eyes.
- Begin observing the qualities of your breath. Are you breathing deep or shallow? Are you breathing rapidly or slowly? Is the air you’re breathing warm or cool as it enters the body?
- Don’t judge the way you are breathing. You can develop your awareness and become more connected to the present moment by just noticing your breath.
Square breathing is also called Box breathing. This powerful breath exercise does wonder for calming anxieties and nerves.
Here’s how to do it:
- Find a comfortable position and inhale for a count of four.
- Pause at the end of the four counts and hold your breath for another count of four.
- Exhale for a count of four.
- Pause at the end of the four counts, and hold your breath for another count of four.
- Repeat until you feel calm.
This breathing exercise is super accessible and effective, and you can do it anywhere. If you have trouble holding your breath for four seconds, you can adjust the time to best fit your lung capacity.
Founder, Yoga Art Space
It can lead to profound healing and awakening experiences
The Sanskrit word we use for breathing exercises in the yogic tradition is Pranayama. That word roughly translates in English to “movement of life force.”
There are numerous Yogic breathing techniques that aid in many life functions, such as:
- speeding up metabolism
- helping people fall asleep
- cleansing the digestive system
Wim Hof has recently become very popular in recent years for the amazing ways he has used breathing methods to complete amazing feats such as:
- Taking the longest distance, swim with one breath under a layer of ice.
- Having no adverse reactions to being injected with an endotoxin that should have caused flu-like symptoms in a matter of hours.
- Prevent and reverse symptoms of altitude sickness while hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro. These are just some of the amazing outcomes of breathing exercises.
For the past three years, I have been studying the breath intensely and have become certified as a breathwork facilitator. I frequently host 2-hour breathwork workshops where students use complete and connected breathing to induce an altered state of consciousness.
It enables to release or cleanse physical and emotional blockages
These techniques have been used in various cultures worldwide to access non-ordinary realms for healing and spiritual growth throughout history. Throughout breathwork, an energy charge is created in the body, and as the energy dissipates, it enables to release or cleanse physical and emotional blockages.
While the specific experiences students have during these workshops vary, some of the common experiences include:
- resolution and release of current problems and unsolved childhood wounds
- birth memories, past life remembrances, and stored trauma release in the body
- encounters with the divine
- time and space transcendence, direct interaction of primordial vibration, deep calmness, unconditional love, and orgasmic states
It can help us improve awareness of our physical and psychological well-being
Understanding how breathing works can go a long way in helping us improve awareness of both our physical and psychological well-being. The quality of our breath and how we breathe is directly tied to how we feel, process emotions, and, above all else, how we live.
It activates or relaxes our nervous system
Breathing exercises work to prime the nervous system to activate or relax it. Slow, deep breathing increases the vagus nerve activity, which lowers heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. This helps ease our bodies into our rest or digest state via the Parasympathetic Nervous System.
It can help you both at home and in the workplace
In our everyday lives, building an awareness of the breath and adding breathing exercises to your life can help you both at home and in the workplace. You can essentially help yourself prevent common day-to-day discomforts with a few simple shifts in your breathing.
“Self-care” in this way works on a much deeper level. Breathing exercises can be performed to prevent or ease low back soreness since specific techniques help target and engage the abdominal muscles, which help stabilize your lower back.
Its quality links to our mental state
The quality of our breath is usually the first indicator of our mental state. This is why we gasp when surprised or afraid. Short and sharp inhales can trigger our innate fight-or-flight response (Sympathetic Nervous System).
This is also why a big sighing can feel so good and necessary during or after a stressful situation.
Diaphragmatic (belly) breathing can be used to combat stress and anxiety immediately, mitigate performance anxiety before public speaking or exams, and can help achieve a more restful sleep when practiced just 20 minutes before going to bed.
Yoga Instructor, MyYogaTeacher
Purpose of breathing exercises:
- Improving lung function for people who struggle with breathing, especially asthmatics, and those recovering from bronchitis or pneumonia.
- Reducing snoring
- Alleviating migraines and insomnia
- Stress reduction
It helps asthmatics and others having trouble breathing control
Exhaling is usually a passive process for people with healthy lung function, but it becomes challenging for asthmatics. Asthmatics struggle more with exhalation than inhalation. When an asthma attack is triggered, the bronchi constrict, making it difficult to exhale.
There are various types of breathing exercises in yoga (referred to as “Pranayama,” which means “breath” in Sanskrit) to help asthmatics and others having trouble breathing control their exhalations and bring oxygen into their lungs.
Here are two types of Pranayama breathing exercises:
- Sasankasana Pranayama (aka Rabbit Breathing)
It helps those with mild to moderate asthma. Begin in a seated pose (thunderbolt), resting on your knees and glutes on calves or a block placed between your calves.
When you inhale, raise both arms, palms facing out. Arch backward gently. When exhaling, bring arms down to the ground, reach back towards the feet, lift the body off the support and bend over, so the forehead faces or touches the floor.
- Anuloma Viloma Pranayama (aka Alternate Nostril Breathing)
It is effective for asthmatics while also helping with snoring reduction and alleviating insomnia and migraines.
Use the index finger and pinky finger in one hand (right) to alternately close the nostrils. Close the left nostril with a pinky finger and inhale for 5 seconds, pinch both nostrils closed with pinky and index, hold the breath for 10-15 seconds, release the air through the left nostril and exhale fully for 10 seconds.
Repeat by inhaling through the left nostril for 5 seconds, pinching both nostrils closed and holding breath 10-15 seconds, then release air through the right nostril for 10 seconds. Do 2 to 3 sets of this exercise.
Health Expert | CEO, Lift Vault
It forces people to take control of their breathing patterns
Diaphragmatic breathing is a type of breathing that requires fully expensing the chest and diaphragm to take in a super deep breath. This process has several benefits, including pushing all Carbon Dioxide out of the lungs and consciously slowing breathing.
One of the major mental side effects of diaphragmatic breathing is that it forces people to take control of their breathing patterns, which can help them take control of their autonomic nervous response. That can be a powerful mental trigger that helps them overcome their fears.
It helps the body recover faster from exertion
Hyperventilation, when done intentionally, often has similar benefits. In addition to the stress relief provided by regular breathing exercises, hyperventilation can increase oxygen content in the blood, lowering the acidity. That can help improve the oxygen uptake rate by muscles, relieving stress and helping the body recover faster from exertion.
It helps us control how our body responds to stimuli
Breathing is a core exercise we do every day but rarely think about. Breathwork can help make breathing more efficient and help us control how our body responds to stimuli. It’s an excellent tool for athletes and laypeople to keep in their toolbox when negative effects like stress start to run rampant.
Peter Piraino, LMSW, LCDC, LISAC
Breathing exercises have a few purposes, leading back to the same things, mindfulness and calmness.
It makes you feel calmer and boosts your mood
Physically, breathing exercises help by lowering cortisol levels (the stress hormone), reducing blood pressure, and boosting serotonin (the happiness hormone).
Breathing exercises activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which has a calming effect on the body. It makes you feel calmer and boosts your mood.
It helps you combat mental health issues
Mentally, breathing exercises help you combat stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
Breathing exercises, such as mindful breathing, help us focus on the task at hand and ground us in the present moment. They help deal with challenging mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.
It can help get you out of a stressful situation
Emotionally, Breathing exercises can help get you out of a stressful situation, such as a panic attack. These exercises help you take control of your surroundings and center yourself to overcome anxiety.
Founder, Assisted Living Center
It can help strengthen breathing rhythms
Breathing exercises can help strengthen breathing rhythms in the elderly. Asthma and chronic bronchitis are the most common respiratory illnesses among senior patients.
Over time, these conditions may strain the diaphragm and make breathing more difficult. Breathing exercises allow patients to focus on bringing more air into their lungs, which helps relieve debilitating symptoms.
Many seniors have hunched backs that signal poor posture. That anatomical compression makes it more challenging for oxygen to fill the lungs and nourish their cells.
Ironically, belly breathing exercises help correct poor posture by loosening tense muscles near the neck, shoulders, and abdomen.
CEO, The Gym Goat
It is a great way to improve your health and well-being
Breathing exercises are a great way to improve your health and well-being. They can help you relax and relieve stress. There are many different breathing techniques that people use to achieve this goal.
These include yoga, meditation, tai chi, qi gong, etc. To understand how breathing exercises work, we need to first look at what happens when we breathe.
When we inhale, oxygen enters our body through the nose and lungs. This oxygen then travels to every organ in our body. Our heart beats faster, our brain functions better, and our muscles become stronger.
On the other hand, Carbon Dioxide leaves our bodies when we exhale. Carbon Dioxide is produced whenever we burn fuel like food, fat, or carbohydrates. In addition, it is released from our bodies when we exercise.
There are two types of breathing exercises:
- Diaphragmatic Breathing
- Abdominal Breathing
Diaphragmatic Breathing involves using the abdomen muscles to expand and contract while inhaling and exhaling. It has been shown to increase energy levels, lower blood pressure, and reduce anxiety. However, it may not be effective if you suffer from asthma or emphysema.
Abdominal Breathing involves using the muscles around the rib cage to expand and contract while taking in and releasing air. It is less strenuous than diaphragmatic breathing but requires more practice. It is recommended for those who suffer from chronic pain or fatigue.
Owner, Siddhi Yoga
As a firm believer and practitioner of yoga and breathing exercises, they are fundamental to our existence and body.
It detoxifies our bodies of the toxins accumulated within them
Breathing exercises are vital in detoxifying our bodies of the toxins accumulated within them. When they are practiced, breathing exercises help get rid of the lungs of accumulated stale air, increase oxygen levels and acquire the diaphragm to return to its job of helping you breathe.
It helps the brain calm down and relax
These exercises help the brain calm down and relax, the lungs function, and the body feels refreshed. They help relieve stress, depression, insomnia, and other health ailments.
Stress-related factors such as increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and high blood pressure all decrease as you breathe to relax.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can anyone do breathing exercises?
Absolutely! Breathing exercises can be done by anyone, regardless of age, ability, or health condition. However, it’s always a good idea to talk to your health care provider before starting a new exercise program.
How often should I do breathing exercises?
There is no hard and fast rule about how often you should do breathing exercises—it depends on your needs and goals. Some people benefit from doing breathing exercises every day, while others find that a few times a week is enough. Experiment with different frequencies and find what works best for you.
Can breathing exercises help with sleep?
Yes! Breathing exercises can be a great way to wind down and prepare for sleep. Try doing a few rounds of deep or box breathing before bed to calm your mind and body.
What is the best way to learn breathing exercises?
There are many resources to help you learn breathing exercises, including books, online tutorials, and classes. Experiment with different methods and find what works best for you. Remember that the most important thing is to be patient and consistent.
As with any new habit, it may take some time before you see the full benefits of breathing exercises.
How can I make breathing exercises a habit?
As with any new habit, consistency is key! Try incorporating breathing exercises into your daily routine—for example, doing a few rounds of belly breathing in the morning after you wake up or at night before you go to bed.
You could also set a reminder on your phone or schedule a regular time each day to do the exercises. With time and practice, breathing exercises can become a natural and effective part of your self-care routine.
Can breathing exercises be done during exercise?
Yes! In fact, many athletes and fitness enthusiasts use breathing exercises to improve their performance and reduce the risk of injury. Rhythmic breathing, for example, matching your breath to your steps or movements, can help you stay focused and centered during physical activity.
Are breathing exercises a substitute for medical treatment for anxiety or other mental health conditions?
Breathing exercises can be a helpful addition to traditional medical treatment for anxiety or other mental health conditions, but they aren’t a substitute for professional medical help.
If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or other mental health concerns, it’s important that you consult a mental health professional.
What should I do if I’m having difficulty with breathing exercises?
If you’re having difficulty with the breathing exercises or aren’t seeing the benefits you had hoped for, don’t get discouraged! It may take time and practice before you find the right technique and see results.
Some people also find it helpful to work with a breathing coach or mental health professional to learn breathing exercises and get feedback on their technique.
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