5 Simple Breathing Exercises

Simple breathing exercises can help us cope with stress, lower blood pressure, reduce muscle tension and more.

| March/April 2014

  • "The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook" offers breathing techniques and other tips to help maximize your relaxation.
    Cover courtesy New Harbringer Publications
  • Practicing simple breathing exercises has been shown to reduce stress and muscle tension, as well as lower blood pressure.
    Photo by Take A Pix Media/Blend Images

Breathing is a fundamental necessity of life that most of us take for granted. With each breath we obtain oxygen and then exhale carbon dioxide. Poor breathing habits diminish the flow of these gases into and out of our bodies, which may make it harder to cope with stressful situations. In fact, certain breathing patterns may actually contribute to anxiety, panic attacks, depression, muscle tension, headaches and fatigue.

Rapid breathing (also called chest or thoracic breathing) is part of our fight-or-flight response and is operated by our sympathetic nervous system, says Esther Sternberg, a physician, author and researcher at the National Institutes of Health, in an interview with National Public Radio. Deep breathing (also called abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing) engages our parasympathetic reaction, which calms us down.

By becoming more aware of our breathing and practicing slowing and normalizing our breaths, we may learn to quiet our minds and relax our bodies, reducing our heart rates, blood pressure and stress hormone levels. Breath awareness and good breathing habits can enhance psychological and physical well-being, practiced alone or with other relaxation techniques.

Simple Breathing Exercises

The process of a simple breathing exercise can be learned in a matter of minutes and some of its benefits are experienced immediately. Regular practice of a breathing exercise can have profound effects in a matter of weeks, if not days. After you’ve tried the exercises presented here, develop a breathing program of your own, incorporating the exercises you find most helpful. Follow your program daily for best results.

Breathing Patterns

When we breathe, we typically use one of two patterns:

Chest or thoracic breathing is an all-too-common malady of modern life. Linked with stress, anxiety or other forms of emotional distress, chest breathing is shallow and can be irregular and rapid.

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