Today I’m presenting you with a selection of breathing exercises that help manage anxiety, help you sleep, and help you feel calm. I figured it might be useful to provide a list of breathing exercises after writing ‘3 Beneficial Ways CBT-I Will Help With Your Insomnia‘, to help get the ball rolling with helping you sleep or to just unwinded.
Using breathing exercises is one of the oldest and most efficient ways of treating stress (Everly and Lating, 2013). Thus, using a combination of these breathing exercises each day for between 10-30 minutes will help you reduce stress, depression, and anxiety.
This breathing exercise is defined by its four equal parts. For this breathing exercise you’ll need to do:
- Breathe in for four seconds through the nose.
- Hold your breath for fours seconds.
- Breathe out through your mouth for four seconds.
- And hold for four seconds.
- Repeat as many times as needed.
The 4-7-8 breathing exercise is pretty straightforward, much like the box breathing exercise. All you need to do is:
- Breathe in through your nose for four seconds.
- Hold your breath for seven seconds.
- Breathe out through your mouth for eight seconds.
- Repeat this at least four times, or as necessary.
This one is a little more intense than the other breathing exercises, here’s why:
- Breathe in deeply through your nose and try to feel your abdomen (you’ll see your stomach come out as your diaphragm moves down).
- Breathe out through your mouth and try to empty your lungs as much as possible.
- Try to breathe like this as slowly and deeply as you can.
- Repeat this a minimum of six times.
Long exhale, short inhale
This deep breathing exercise isn’t for everyone in every situation. One such situation is when you’re panic breathing during an anxiety attack, whereby deep breathing may cause you to hyperventilate instead. In such situations, this long exhale, short inhale breathing exercise might be better. All you need to do is:
- First breathe out and push all the air out of your lungs, before you breathe in,
- Let your lungs do the work and breathe in normally.
- Now when you breathe out, try to breathe out for longer than you’ll breathe in. For example, if you breathe out for six seconds, you’ll breathe in for four seconds.
- Repeat this for a couple of minutes.
This method was suggested by Medical News Today, which combines deep breathing with visualisation. You do this by:
- Relaxing the muscles in your face and shoulders.
- Imagine you have holes in the soles of your feet.
- Take a deep breath and visualise the hot air coming in through the holes in the soles of your feet.
- Imagine the hot air travelling up through your legs, through your tummy, and into your lungs.
- Relax each muscle as the hot air passes through them.
- Breathe out slowly and imagine that the air is travelling from your lungs, back through your tummy, through your legs, and out through the holes in the soles of your feet.
- Repeat until you feel calm.
This is a simple method that gets you to use your diaphragm to breathe. What you need to do is:
- Place one hand on your tummy just above your belly button and put the other hand on your chest.
- Breathe in through your nose so that your tummy rises, but your chest stays relatively still.
- Round your lips and breathe out through your mouth.
- At the end of the out breathe, engage your stomach muscles to help push the air out.
- Repeat three or four times, or as necessary.
- Lie down and close your eyes.
- With your mouth closed, gently breathe in through your nose for six seconds, but don’t try to fill your lungs.
- Gently breathe out through your nose for six seconds, but don’t force it.
- Repeat for 10 minutes.
- Then take a minute or two to focus on how your body feels.
Kapalbhati (Breath of fire)
This breathing exercise was used in a study by Bhimani, Kulkarni, Kowale, and Salvi (2011) to investigate if practicing Pranayama (of which this breathing exercise belongs) could help reduce stress levels, which they found it did. To try the breath of fire breathing exercise, all you need to do is:
- Sit in a meditative posture or a comfortably seated position.
- Close your eyes and relax the muscles in your body.
- Breath in deeply through your nose, expanding your chest.
- Breath out forcefully by contracting the abdominal muscles, then relax.
- Continue this breathing pattern of breathing in passively and breathing out forcefully six times.
- Then complete 30 rapid breath.
- Once you’ve finished your 30 rapid breaths, take a deep breath, then breathe out slowly.
- This is one round of Kapalbhati (breath of fire).
- Repeat two more times.
Simhasana (Lion’s breath)
This is another breathing exercise taken from Pranayama yoga. You’ll see how it got its name in a second. To do the lion’s breath, you need to:
- Get into a comfortable seated position on the floor, preferably a kneeling position if you’re able to.
- Lean forward slightly and put your hands on your knees or floor.
- Spread your fingers out.
- Breathe in through your nose.
- Open your mouth wide and stick your tongue out towards your chin.
- Breathe out forcefully while you vocalise the sound “ha”.
- Breathe normally for a while.
- Repeat this about seven times.
Alternate nostril breathing
The clues in the name, this is a breathing exercises that gets you to switch which nostril to breathe through. To do this breathing exercise, you need to:
- Place your left hand in your lap.
- Take the right hand and rest your index finger and middle finger between your eyebrows.
- Using your right thumb, cover your right nostril and breathe in slowly through your left nostril.
- Then take the ring finger on your right hand and use it to pinch your nose closed and hold your breath for five seconds.
- Keeping your right ring finger on your left nostril, remove your thumb from your right nostril and breathe out through your right nostril.
- Now breathe in slowly through your right nostril.
- Pinch your nose again and hold your breath for five seconds.
- Now open your left nostril and breathe out.
- Now repeat this cycle by breathing in through the left nostril.
- Repeat up to 10 times.
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share your experiences of using breathing exercises in the comments section below as well. Don’t forget to bookmark my site and if you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.
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Unwanted Life readers.
Bhimani, N. T., Kulkarni, N. B., Kowale, A., & Salvi, S. (2011). Effect of pranayama on stress and cardiovascular autonomic tone and reactivity. Nat J Integ Res Med, 2, 48-54. Retrieved from https://europepmc.org/article/med/23362731 and http://njirm.pbworks.com/f/11Effect+of+Pranayama.pdf.
Everly, G., Jr., & Lating, J. (2013). Voluntary control of respiration patterns. A clinical guide to the treatment of the human stress response (pp. 223–235). Springer: New York. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-5538-7_11 and https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4614-5538-7_11.
Jerath, R., Crawford, M. W., Barnes, V. A., & Harden, K. (2015). Self-regulation of breathing as a primary treatment for anxiety. Applied psychophysiology and biofeedback, 40(2), 107-115. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s10484-015-9279-8 and https://philarchive.org/archive/RAVSOB.
Streeter, C. C., Gerbarg, P. L., Whitfield, T. H., Owen, L., Johnston, J., Silveri, M. M., Gensler, M., Faulkner, C. L., Mann, C., Wixted, M., Hernon, A. M., Nyer, M. B., Brown, E. R. P., & Jensen, J. E. (2017). Treatment of major depressive disorder with Iyengar yoga and coherent breathing: a randomized controlled dosing study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 23(3), 201-207. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2016.0140 and https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/acm.2016.0140.