No one needs a reminder that we are living in hectic and overwhelming times. From the constant ping on our cell phones to jam packed schedules, many of us don’t get through a day without experiencing several episodes of stress and anxiety.
Partially in response to this, we’ve seen a huge boom in the wellness and personal growth industry in the last few years. And while a lot of good has come from this, it can bring with it its own set of stressors and overwhelms. Juice cleanses, silent retreats, yoga classes, meditation workshops, gluten-free diets, self-help books, wellness blogs, life coaches and so much more are just the beginning of the many techniques, programs, and items that we’re told we need in order to live calmer and more relaxed lives.
We advocate wholeheartedly for choosing the techniques that work for you, and any of the above and more may yield amazing changed in your life. However, if you’re looking for a quick way to calm and destress your life, some simple breathing practices are an amazingly effective way to start. We often overlook the simple things and write them off as being too basic to be effective, but a few deep breaths can be truly transformative.
Slowing down and giving attention to your breath helps to slow your heart rate and calm the systems in your body that trigger your fight or flight response. This allows you to get out of a state of fear and anxiety and into a mental and physiological state of calm:“Healthy breathing can really shift how your body reacts and begin to calm you down,” says Tal Rabinowitz, founder and CEO of DEN Meditation.
In today’s post, we’ve rounded up some of the best breathing exercises to help you relax, destress, and find peace in the present moment. These techniques can be used any time you find yourself in a stressful situation, but they can also be done at any time of the day, even when you’re already feeling calm, to deepen your state of ease and promote healthy breathing practices. Some people like to allocate certain times, such as right before bed or on their morning commute, to practicing these beneficial techniques.
One note before we get into the techniques: we live in a society that lives with the pretense that more is better, and we often believe that something needs to be difficult or strenuous to be effective. Try to let go of that mindset when practicing these exercises and focus more on slowing your breath rather than deepening it.
Straining and forcing your breath to be too deep or intense can actually have the opposite effect and cause you to feel more stressed. If you’re not used to focusing on your breath, it can feel a bit uncomfortable and forced at the beginning, but aim to allow yourself to enjoy relaxed, natural breaths.
Slow, deliberate breathing
Our first breathing exercise isn’t a specific technique, it’s just good old-fashioned breathing! Many of us are stuck in shallow breathing that both contributes to and is caused by being in a state of stress.
When you catch yourself holding your breathing or taking short shallow breaths, pause and take a few moments to deepen and slow down your breathing. You don’t need to force deep belly breaths, just allow your attention to be on your breath and take a few slow and deliberate breaths. As you resume your activities, aim to continue with these more relaxed breaths rather than short, sharp, shallow breathing.
This is a great and uber-simple breathing technique that helps to calm the nervous system and allow you to relax and focus. Simply begin by inhaling for a count of four and exhaling for a count of four, repeating for a few minutes. As you progress, you can increase the count up to a count of eight on the inhales and 8 on the exhales.
Some people actually find this easier than simply taking slower, more deliberate breaths because counting helps your mind to focus.
This technique is great to use if you’re dealing with a high stress situation or anytime you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed. The important thing to remember here is to ensure that your exhales are longer than your inhales. Often times, we are holding onto our breath when we’re feeling stressed, and this helps you to release the air from your body, so you can make room for more rejuvenating and deeper inhales.
Begin by inhaling for a count of two, holding for a count of two, and exhaling for a count of four. You can increase your counts as you progress, just remember to keep the exhale longer than the inhale.
Peace Begins with Me
This technique comes from Spiritual Coach and author, Gabrielle Bernstein, and is a great reminder that we, rather than our external circumstances, control our level of peace and happiness.
When you find yourself getting irritated or worked up, come back to your breathing, and gently press your fingers to your thumb, one at a time, while repeating “Peace begins with me.”
Peace (pressing index fingers to thumbs), begins (middle fingers to thumbs), with (ring fingers to thumbs), me (pinkies to thumbs).
Jin Shin Jyutsu technique
Jin Shin Jyutsu is a therapy related to acupressure that works with the energy lines in the body. By coupling its finger hold technique with deep, relaxed breathing, you can release not only anxiety, but a host of other issues as well.
All you have to do is hold your finger with the opposite hand for a few moments while focusing on your breathing. Each finger helps to address different issues and afflictions:
Thumb: Hold to eliminate worry and depression.
Also helps with digestion, stress, tension in head, shoulders and lungs.
Index: Hold to eliminate fear and self-criticism.
Also helps with jaw, teeth, gums, constipation/digestion, bursitis/tennis elbow, backaches.
Middle: Hold to eliminate anger and irritability.
Also helps with general fatigue, eyes/vision, nursing mothers, headache in front of head, indecision.
Ring: Hold to eliminate sadness and grief.
Also helps with respiratory functions including asthma, skin conditions, ringing in the ear, excessive mucus, negative attitude.
Pinkie: Hold to eliminate anxiety.
Also helps with heart conditions, bloating.
There are also a number of breathing and meditation apps that will help to guide you to more relaxed breathing. Some people find it much easier to take the time to practice breathing exercises if they are guided by an app rather than left to do it for themselves. Some apps in particular that we love are Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer.Taking a few minutes to slow down your breathing is one of the fastest, simplest, and most natural ways to calm and re-center yourself. It’s also a great way to return to the present moment and enjoy feelings of peace and happiness. There are tons of breathing exercises from different cultures and teachings that you can explore, but you can also just keep it simple with some basic slow breathing.