Take a breather with these stress-busting exercises

Everyone could use another tool in the toolbox when it comes to handling stress, so here’s one that you can use right now: your breath. One of the ways you can use your breath to impact stress is through the practice of downregulation. So breathe in, breathe out, and get ready for a fresh start on your day.

“Controlled nasal and diaphragmatic breathing can have a calming effect on your body,” says Omi Iwasaki, senior vice president of performance at EXOS. “It can lower blood pressure, slow breath rate, cool the body, reduce anxiety, lower heart rate, promote relaxation, and help to balance your nervous system.”

Optimizing your breathing doesn’t have to be hard, and there are many ways to customize it to your needs. Before you begin, pause and notice your breath. This way you can compare your current breathing to how you feel after this practice.

Not every breathing method or cadence has the same effect on everyone, and some may even elevate your heart rate or increase anxiety, so it’s important to try different strategies until you find the right one. It will take time to find the cadence and duration that works for you.

So the next time you’re feeling stress or anxiety, try one of these breathing techniques to find your center. Most people feel improvements in as little as four to six breath cycles.

Resonance breathing

Six breaths. One minute. That’s it when it comes to resonance breathing. For thousands of years, Buddhist monk and yogi practices have incorporated this tried-and-true approach.

True resonance is inhaling for six seconds and exhaling for six seconds. But if this is too hard, try inhaling for four seconds and exhaling for six seconds, or five seconds for both. And work up to the six-second mark. The main thing is to simply focus on exhaling longer than your inhale.

This breathing exercise is more effective when performed for 10 to 20 minutes, but when you first begin, try keeping this cadence for three to five minutes and see how you feel. Check out this free app for more guidance.

“Bee breath” or bhramari from pranayama yoga

For this technique, find a comfortable position and close your eyes and mouth and relax your lips, jaw, and base of your tongue. Then take a slow, controlled breath through your nose. Exhale through your nose while making a humming sound.

You can even try humming higher or lower pitches to see how that changes the effect. You don't have to worry about a specific cadence or count. Just focus on slowing your breath and extending your exhales longer than your inhales. Repeat six or seven times and take note of how you feel.  

Box breathing

Popular with the U.S. Navy SEALs, box breathing is a great way to help with powerful stress relief. Plus it’s one of the easiest tempos to remember; just think of a box with four sides.

Start with a slow inhale through your nose for four seconds. Hold your breath for four seconds. Exhale slowly through your nose or mouth for four seconds. Then hold your breath for four seconds before inhaling and starting the pattern over again.

Do this four times to start feeling the effect. If four seconds is too much, try starting with three seconds for each. You can also try extending your counts to five or six seconds, depending on how this makes you feel.

4 - 7 - 8 breath

This relaxation breathing tempo was created by Dr. Andrew Weil as a tool for relaxation and stress relief. Some say it helps reduce anxiety or help them fall asleep.

Rest the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, directly behind your upper front teeth. Release any tension from your body by pushing the air through your lips, so it makes a whooshing sound.

Inhale through your nose for four seconds with your mouth closed. Hold your breath for seven seconds. Exhale through your mouth for eight seconds. Start by repeating this four times and eventually work up to eight repetitions.

6 - 4 - 10 breath

This breathing tempo is one that EXOS coaches have recommended to our clients for years to ease stress, help you fall asleep, and improve cardio health.

Remember to pause and notice your breath before you start. Then inhale for six seconds, hold for four seconds, and exhale for 10 seconds. Work on making that exhale nice and long.

Want to better understand the role stress plays in your life? Check out this deep dive into the science of stress.

Disclaimer: If your breathing rate is 20 times per minute or higher, consult a physician. People who have low blood pressure or are on medication to lower it, people with diabetes, and pregnant women need to exercise caution with breathing exercises. Slow, deep breathing exercises are not recommended for people with very low blood pressure or for anyone prone to fainting.

About the Author

Kelsey Webb

As an editorial assistant at EXOS, I'm eager to help others improve every aspect of their lives through healthy living. I enjoy bringing effective strategies and information to light by working with experts in all fields.

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