This slow breathing exercise can reduce stress and anxiety

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Slow breathing exercises are game-changing tools to help reduce stress and anxiety. A recent research study found that even a single five-minute session of deep, slow breathing reduces stress and anxiety. The breathing exercise in the study was a simple guided exercise: inhale for four seconds and exhale for four seconds and gradually lengthen the exhale until the ratio is four seconds and six seconds.

This study adds to a growing body of research which shows how breathing exercises can reduce anxiety and improve the ability to cope with stressful situations.

Breathing exercises can go by many names: mindful breathing, breathing meditation, mindful breathing, slow or deep breathing, rhythmic breathing, breath control, rhythmic breathing, abdominal breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing. Breathing exercises in yoga are known as pranayama, which encompasses several different types of breathing exercises that serve different purposes. In general, slow, deep breathing, such as alternate nostril breathing, has a calming effect, while fast, short breathing exercises tend to be more stimulating and uplifting.

Breathing exercises help both when faced with stressful situations and also, perhaps more importantly, as a preventative tool. When you regularly practice breathing exercises, even when you don’t feel stressed, it develops the ability to handle stress better in the future. Think of breathing exercises and practicing mindfulness as if you were working a muscle. The habit of practicing breath awareness daily strengthens one’s ability to handle stress. Practice builds its reservoir. Over time, slow breathing will provide a clear path and immediate access to the physical “relaxation response” for the body. and listen.

This type of breathing exercise can be done anytime, anywhere. Whether you’re waiting in line or preparing for a presentation and feeling nervous, try this simple rhythmic breathing exercise for as little as one minute a day to manage stress. Many audio-guided breath meditations are available online (in many languages), and we also provide online audio-guided meditations.

Awareness of beginner’s slow breathing

  1. Find a comfortable sitting position. You can also do this exercise standing up, for example, if you are standing in line. If you are lying down, you can place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
  2. Gently lower your eyes to the ground in front of you or close your eyes.
  3. Start noticing how your breath feels today.
  4. Inhale deeply through your nose for four counts and exhale through your nose for four counts.
  5. Repeat this cycle of breathing: four counts and four counts. Continue like this for a minute.
  6. Change your breath cycle to: four counts and five counts. Repeat this for the second minute.
  7. Change your breath cycle to: four counts and six counts. Continue at this pace if it’s comfortable for the rest of your exercise. Breathing exercises should not be painful.
  8. When you are ready, resume your normal breathing without trying to control it.

Variation on Awareness of Slow Breathing

  1. Find a comfortable sitting position. You can also do this exercise standing up, for example, if you are standing in line. If you are lying down, you can place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
  2. Gently lower your eyes to the ground in front of you or close your eyes.
  3. Start noticing how your breath feels today.
  4. Inhale deeply through your nose for four counts and exhale through your nose for four counts.
  5. Repeat this cycle of breathing: four counts and four counts. Continue like this for a minute.
  6. Now try four counts and five counts. Repeat this for the second minute.
  7. Now try four counts and six counts. Repeat this for the third minute.
  8. Now try four counts, hold for two counts and six counts.
  9. Continue at this pace if it’s comfortable for the rest of your exercise.
  10. When you are ready, resume your normal breathing without trying to control it.

For those who may feel restless or distracted when seated, you have a few options:

  • Try a seated breathing exercise, but only for one minute a day for the first week. Continue for two weeks, and when you’re ready, gradually add one minute per week until you reach five minutes per day. Remember: even if you do this for one minute a day, it can be very helpful in reducing stress and anxiety over time.
  • Try mindful walking combined with slow breathing. If the seated position is not comfortable for you or if you feel restless, use your steps to match each rhythm of your breathing. For example, inhale for four steps and exhale for four steps. Adapt your breathing to the rhythm of your walk so that it has a calming effect and focus on your inhaling and exhaling with each step.
  • Try an audio-guided breathing meditation to guide you through this process. Our audio-guided meditations (with music by Ryan Ferreira) are now available on Spotify and Preview timer.

Practicing regularly throughout the week makes this tool more effective when you need it most. When you make time for yourself, putting it on your calendar at the same time every day, you’ll be more likely to fit it into your daily schedule. Tailor the time of day you practice these exercises to your personal schedule, taking into account when you need them most. If you are someone who wakes up with a lot of anxiety, try starting your day with breathing exercises. Or if you are someone who has trouble falling asleep, try this exercise as part of your nightly sleep routine.

Marlynn Wei, MD, PLLC. Copyright © 2022.

About Shirley A. Tamayo

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