Take a Deep Breathe

Inhale. Hold. Count down from five. Exhale. Repeat.

Deep breathing is the easiest, most readily available forms of stress relief out there. Who would have guessed that by simply changing the pattern of your breath, you can improve the function of your heart, brain, digestion, immune system — and possibly even the expression of genes, according to an article from NPR.


So how does deep breathing do us these deeds? According to the Better Health Channel, breathing is an automatic function of the body, controlled by the respiratory center of the brain. When we encounter stress, our breathing rates and patterns change as part of the primitive “fight-or-flight response” that occurs upon the activation of our sympathetic nervous system. Fortunately, however, we each have the ability to deliberately change our own breathing patterns. By breathing slowly and deeply, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which works in the opposite manner of the sympathetic nervous system. Otherwise known as the “rest and digest system”, the parasympathetic system conserves energy by slowing heart rate, increasing intestinal and gland activity, and relaxing the muscles that make up the gastrointestinal tract through our stomachs.

Click the image above if you're interested in purchasing the book.

Click the image above if you’re interested in purchasing the book.

In their book, “The Healing Power of the Breath,” Richard P. Brown, M.D. and Patricia L. Gerbarg, M.D. write:

“By voluntarily changing the rate, depth, and pattern of breathing, we can change the messages being sent from the body’s respiratory system to the brain. In this way, breathing techniques provide a portal to the autonomic communication network through which we can, by changing our breathing patterns, send specific messages to the brain using the language of the body, a language the brain understands and to which it responds. Messages from the respiratory system have rapid, powerful effects on major brain centers involved in thought, emotion, and behavior.”

So there you have it – breathing can take you from overwhelmed to productive, from temperamental to social, from pessimistic to optimistic, from inactivity to productivity in minutes, for free!

Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D., a world-renowned leader and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, recommends three types of deep breathing to most effectively relieve stress.

The first type is called “The Stimulating Breathe,” and is adapted from a technique used in yoga sessions. The goal of this type of breathing is to raise a person’s energy level and increase alertness. If done properly, you should feel as energized as after a good workout. Here’s what you do:

  • Closing your mouth, use your nose only to inhale and exhale as quickly as possible. If done right, you should be making a decent amount of noise.
  • If it’s your first time trying this technique, go for 15 seconds, aiming for three in-and-out cycles per second.
  • Each time you use this technique, add five or so seconds to the routine, until you reach a full minute.

Here’s a video of a demonstration of this technique.

The second deep breathing technique is called “the Relaxing Breathing Exercise.” This ones simple – you can do it anywhere without attracting any attention. It’s a natural tranquilizer, and can be used in any situation, such as before you fall asleep or before you react to an upsetting event. Here’s how it works:

  • Press your tongue against the tissue right behind your upper front teeth and hold it in this position
  • Exhale through your mouth, pushing the air around your tongue. It should produce a quiet woosh sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale for through your nose four seconds.
  • Hold your breath for seven seconds
  • Exhale all the air you can through your mouth, making the woosh sound again, this time for eight seconds.
  • Inhale again, and repeat the whole cycle four times.

Here’s a video of a demonstration of this technique.

It’s really important here to maintain the 4:7:8 second ratio for all four cycles.

The third and final technique is called “Breath Counting,” and it involves letting your attention wander away from your initial focus on breathing. Here’s what you do:

  • Sit up strait and lean slightly forward.
  • In your head, count “one” as you exhale.
  • On the next exhale, count “two,” and so on up to “five.”
  • After you reach “five,” start the cycle from “one again.”
  • If you’re doing it right, you should find eventually that your attention has wandered, and you are now counting numbers beyond “five.”

Here’s a video of a demonstration of this technique.

After trying each of these three techniques over the course of the past few days when I’ve felt overwhelmed by anxiety, I found “the Relaxing Breathing Exercise” to be most effective for me. Some experts suggest that it might be helpful to practice deep breathing exercises while you’re doing other things. After all, this is, most likely, when you’re going to be overcome by stress. It’s also recommended often that you set a schedule with practice time each day. I’ve established a period where I have some off time between two classes as my designated practice time.

Take a deep breathe…you’ll feel so much better!

I really think this technique could help a lot of people, especially those who are not willing to fully accept that they are anxiety-prone, and thus will not go out of their way to seek help. Even if you’re not feeling particularly stressed, deep breathing has so much to offer! Check out these some other awesome benefits here.

2 thoughts on “Take a Deep Breathe

  1. Love it!! I’ve always been an anxious person, and have been told I really need to do things like this to help me calm down (and even lower my blood pressure!). I tried the second technique you wrote about…I need some practice! It’s crazy that something as simple as breathing can have such a big effect on our bodies, but I 100% believe it. I’m really excited to keep reading your blog and see what other techniques you have to write about! I’m certainly going to make an effort to follow through and do them too!

  2. This is such great advice to relieve stress! It is one of the main motives in yoga and meditation which goes to show breathing really does work to help in relaxation. I try to do yoga about twice a week and my favorite part is always in the beginning and the end when alls we are doing is breathing. I can take this time to focus on my breath and each part of my body instead of worrying about the petty things in my life that are the sources of much of my stress. My mom used to always say just take a deep breath. I think of her every time I am stressed out or overwhelmed because honestly the release of a big breath can melt away a lot of the weight that stress can bring.

    I love how you pointed out that breathing can take you from overwhelmed to productive, from temperamental to social, from pessimistic to optimistic, from inactivity to productivity in literally a few sections because that is really the beauty of taking a deep breath. In just a few moments, if i stop and just take a deep breath I instantly become more capable of being productive with my homework or more focused on what makes me happy. I find myself doing the stimulating breathe in yoga but I agree with you that the “Relaxing Breathing Exercise” really seems to relax me. I have yet to try breath counting but I think it would be really cool to see how our minds automatically begin drifting off and counting past five. Thank you so much for explaining the different breathing techniques!! I will definitely look back on this post when I need to really breathe deeply and just relax.

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