Breathing Exercise and Techniques for Stress Relief

Breathing Exercise and Techniques for Stress Relief

Breathing Exercise and Techniques for Stress Relief/Breathing is a necessity of life that usually occurs without much thought. When you breathe in air, blood cells receive oxygen and release carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a waste product that’s carried back through your body and exhaled.

breathing also goes by the names of diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, belly breathing, and paced respiration. When you breathe deeply, the air coming in through your nose fully fills your lungs, and the lower belly rises.

For many of us, deep breathing seems unnatural. There are several reasons for this. For one, body image has a negative impact on respiration in our culture. A flat stomach is considered attractive, so women (and men) tend to hold in their stomach muscles. This interferes with deep breathing and gradually makes shallow “chest breathing” seem normal, which increases tension and anxiety.

Shallow breathing limits the diaphragm’s range of motion. The lowest part of the lungs doesn’t get a full share of oxygenated air. That can make you feel short of breath and anxious.

Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, it can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure.

Improper breathing can upset the oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange and contribute to anxiety, panic attacks, fatigue, and other physical and emotional disturbances.

Breathing Exercise and Techniques for Stress Relief

If you’re interested in trying breathing exercises to reduce stress or anxiety or improve your lung function, we’ve got 10 different ones to sample. You may find that certain exercises appeal to you right away. Start with those so that the practice is more enjoyable.

How to add breathing exercises to your day

Breathing exercises don’t have to take a lot of time out of your day. It’s really just about setting aside some time to pay attention to your breathing. Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Begin with just 5 minutes a day, and increase your time as the exercise becomes easier and more comfortable.
  • If 5 minutes feels too long, start with just 2 minutes.
  • Practice multiple times a day. Schedule set times or practice conscious breathing as you feel the need.

1. Pursed lip breathing

  • This simple breathing technique makes you slow down your pace of breathing by having you apply deliberate effort in each breath.
  • You can practice pursed-lip breathing at any time. It may be especially useful during activities such as bending, lifting, or stair climbing.
  • Practice using this breath 4 to 5 times a day when you begin in order to correctly learn the breathing pattern.

To do it

  • Relax your neck and shoulders.
  • Keeping your mouth closed, inhale slowly through your nose for 2 counts.
  • Pucker or purse your lips as though you were going to whistle.
  • Exhale slowly by blowing air through your pursed lips for a count of 4.

2. Diaphragmatic breathing

  • Belly breathing can help you use your diaphragm properly. Do belly breathing exercises when you’re feeling relaxed and rested.
  • Practice diaphragmatic breathing for 5 to 10 minutes 3 to 4 times per day.
  • When you begin you may feel tired, but over time the technique should become easier and should feel more natural.

To do it

  • Lie on your back with your knees slightly bent and your head on a pillow.
  • You may place a pillow under your knees for support.
  • Place one hand on your upper chest and one hand below your rib cage, allowing you to feel the movement of your diaphragm.
  • Slowly inhale through your nose, feeling your stomach pressing into your hand.
  • Keep your other hand as still as possible.
  • Exhale using pursed lips as you tighten your stomach muscles, keeping your upper hand completely still.

You can place a book on your abdomen to make the exercise more difficult. Once you learn how to do belly breathing lying down you can increase the difficulty by trying it while sitting in a chair. You can then practice the technique while performing your daily activities.

3. Breath focus technique

  • This deep breathing technique uses imagery or focuses words and phrases.
  • You can choose a focus word that makes you smile, feel relaxed, or that is simply neutral to think about. Examples include peacelet go, or relaxation, but it can be any word that suits you to focus on and repeat through your practice.
  • As you build up your breath focus practice you can start with a 10-minute session. Gradually increase the duration until your sessions are at least 20 minutes.

To do it

  • Sit or lie down in a comfortable place.
  • Bring your awareness to your breaths without trying to change how you’re breathing.
  • Alternate between normal and deep breaths a few times. Notice any differences between normal breathing and deep breathing. Notice how your abdomen expands with deep inhalations.
  • Note how shallow breathing feels compared to deep breathing.
  • Practice your deep breathing for a few minutes.
  • Place one hand below your belly button, keeping your belly relaxed, and notice how it rises with each inhales and falls with each exhale.
  • Let out a loud sigh with each exhale.
  • Begin the practice of breath focus by combining this deep breathing with imagery and a focused word or phrase that will support relaxation.
  • You can imagine that the air you inhale brings waves of peace and calm throughout your body. Mentally say, “Inhaling peace and calm.”
  • Imagine that the air you exhale washes away tension and anxiety. You can say to yourself, “Exhaling tension and anxiety.

4. Lion’s breath

  • Lion’s breath is an energizing yoga breathing practice that is said to relieve tension in your chest and face.
  • It’s also known in yoga as Lion’s Pose or simhasana in Sanskrit.

To do this

  • Come into a comfortable seated position. You can sit back on your heels or cross your legs.
  • Press your palms against your knees with your fingers spread wide.
  • Inhale deeply through your nose and open your eyes wide.
  • At the same time, open your mouth wide and stick out your tongue, bringing the tip down toward your chin.
  • Contract the muscles at the front of your throat as you exhale out through your mouth by making a long “ha” sound.
  • You can turn your gaze to look at the space between your eyebrows or the tip of your nose.
  • Do this breath 2 to 3 times.

5. Alternate nostril breathing

  • Alternate nostril breathing, known as nadi shodhana pranayama in Sanskrit, is a breathing practice for relaxation.
  • Alternate nostril breathing has been shown to enhance cardiovascular function and lower heart rate.
  • Nadi shodhana is best practiced on an empty stomach. Avoid the practice if you’re feeling sick or congested. Keep your breath smooth and even throughout the practice.

To do this

  • Choose a comfortable seated position.
  • Lift up your right hand toward your nose, pressing your first and middle fingers down toward your palm and leaving your other fingers extended.
  • After an exhale, use your right thumb to gently close your right nostril.
  • Inhale through your left nostril and then close your left nostril with your right pinky and ring fingers.
  • Release your thumb and exhale out through your right nostril.
  • Inhale through your right nostril and then close this nostril.
  • Release your fingers to open your left nostril and exhale through this side.
  • This is one cycle.
  • Continue this breathing pattern for up to 5 minutes.
  • Finish your session with an exhale on the left side.

6. Equal breathing

  • Equal breathing is known as sama vritti in Sanskrit. This breathing technique focuses on making your inhales and exhales the same length. Making your breath smooth and steady can help bring about balance and equanimity.
  • You should find a breath length that is not too easy and not too difficult. You also want it to be too fast, so that you’re able to maintain it throughout the practice. Usually, this is between 3 and 5 counts.
  • Once you get used to equal breathing while seated you can do it during your yoga practice or other daily activities.

To do it

  • Choose a comfortable seated position.
  • Breathe in and out through your nose.
  • Count during each inhale and exhale to make sure they are even in duration. Alternatively, choose a word or short phrase to repeat during each inhale and exhale.
  • You can add a slight pause or breath retention after each inhales and exhales if you feel comfortable. (Normal breathing involves a natural pause.)
  • Continue practicing this breath for at least 5 minutes.

7. Resonant or coherent breathing

  • Resonant breathing, also known as coherent breathing, is when you breathe at a rate of 5 full breaths per minute. You can achieve this rate by inhaling and exhaling for a count of 5.
  • Breathing at this rate maximizes your heart rate variability (HRV), reduces stress, and, according to one 2017 study, can reduce symptoms of depression when combined with Iyengar yoga.

To do this

  • Inhale for a count of 5.
  • Exhale for a count of 5.
  • Continue this breathing pattern for at least a few minutes.

8. Sitali breath

  • This yoga breathing practice helps you lower your body temperature and relax your mind.
  • Slightly extend your breath in length but don’t force it. Since you inhale through your mouth during Sitali breath, you may want to choose a place to practice that’s free of any allergens that affect you and air pollution.

To do this

  • Choose a comfortable seated position.
  • Stick out your tongue and curl your tongue to bring the outer edges together.
  • If your tongue doesn’t do this, you can pursue your lips.
  • Inhale through your mouth.
  • Exhale out through your nose.
  • Continue breathing like this for up to 5 minutes.

9. Deep breathing

  • Deep breathing helps to relieve shortness of breath by preventing air from getting trapped in your lungs and helping you to breathe in the more fresh air. It may help you to feel more relaxed and centered.

To do this

  • While standing or sitting, draw your elbows back slightly to allow your chest to expand.
  • Take a deep inhalation through your nose.
  • Retain your breath for a count of 5.
  • Slowly release your breath by exhaling through your nose.

10. Humming bee breath (bhramari)

  • The unique sensation of this yoga breathing practice helps to create an instant calm and is especially soothing around your forehead.
  • Some people use humming bee breaths to relieve frustration, anxiety, and anger. Of course, you’ll want to practice it in a place where you are free to make a humming sound.

To do this

  • Choose a comfortable seated position.
  • Close your eyes and relax your face.
  • Place your first fingers on the tragus cartilage that partially covers your ear canal.
  • Inhale, and as you exhale gently press your fingers into the cartilage.
  • Keeping your mouth closed, make a loud humming sound.
  • Continue for as long as is comfortable.

You can try most of these breath exercises right away. Take the time to experiment with different types of breathing techniques. Dedicate a certain amount of time at least a few times per week. You can do these exercises throughout the day.

Check-in with your doctor if you have any medical concerns or take any medications. If you want to learn more about breathing practices you can consult a respiratory therapist or a yoga teacher who specializes in breathing practices. Discontinue the practice if you experience any feelings of discomfort or agitation.

The 9 Best Breathing Techniques for Sleep

If you find it difficult to fall asleep, you’re not alone.

According to the American Sleep Association (ASA), insomnia is the most common sleep disorder. About 30 percent of American adults report short-term problems, and 10 percent experience chronic trouble falling or staying asleep.

Our busy and fast-paced society, filled with homework, long work days, financial strains, parenting burnout, or other emotionally exhausting situations, can make it difficult to unwind, calm down, and get restful sleep. When it’s hard to sleep, focusing on your breath may help.

Let’s take a look at some breathing exercises to calm your mind and body to help you fall asleep.

Things to remember before getting started

Although there are a number of breathing exercises you can try to relax and fall asleep, a few basic principles apply to all of them.

It’s always a good idea to close your eyes, which may help you shut out distractions. Focus on your breathing and think about the healing power of your breath.

Each of these nine different exercises has slightly different benefits. Try them and see which one is the best match for you. Soon you’ll be sleeping like a baby.

1. 4-7-8 breathing technique

Here’s how to practice the 4-7-8 breathing technique:

  • Allow your lips to gently part.
  • Exhale completely, making a breathy whoosh sound as you do.
  • Press your lips together as you silently inhale through the nose for a count of 4 seconds.
  • Hold your breath for a count of 7.
  • Exhale again for a full 8 seconds, making a whooshing sound throughout.
  • Repeat 4 times when you first start. Eventually, work up to 8 repetitions.

Dr. Andrew Weil developed this technique as a variation of pranayama, an ancient yogic technique that helps people relax as it replenishes oxygen in the body.

2. Bhramari pranayama breathing exercise

These steps will help you perform the original Bhramari pranayama breathing exercise:

  • Close your eyes and breathe deeply in and out.
  • Cover your ears with your hands.
  • Place your index fingers one each above your eyebrows and the rest of your fingers over your eyes.
  • Next, put gentle pressure to the sides of your nose and focus on your brow area.
  • Keep your mouth closed and breathe out slowly through your nose, making the humming “Om” sound.
  • Repeat the process 5 times.

In clinical studies Bhramari pranayama has been shown to quickly reduce breathing and heart rate. This tends to be very calming and can prepare your body for sleep.

3. Three-part breathing exercise

To practice the three-part breathing exercise, follow these three steps:

  • Take a long, deep inhale.
  • Exhale fully while focusing intently on your body and how it feels.
  • After doing this a few times, slow down your exhale so that it’s twice as long as your inhale.
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4. Diaphragmatic breathing exercise

To do diaphragmatic breathing exercises:

  • Lie on your back and either bend your knees over a pillow or sit in a chair.
  • Place one hand flat against your chest and the other on your stomach.
  • Take slow, deep breaths through your nose, keeping the hand on your chest still as the hand on your stomach rises and falls with your breaths.
  • Next, breathe slowly through pursed lips.
  • Eventually, you want to be able to breathe in and out without your chest moving.

This technique slows your breathing and decreases your oxygen needs as it strengthens your diaphragm.

5. Alternate nasal breathing exercise

Here are the steps for the alternate nasal or alternate nostril breathing exercise, also called nadi shodhana pranayama:

  • Sit with your legs crossed.
  • Place your left hand on your knee and your right thumb against your nose.
  • Exhale fully and then close the right nostril.
  • Inhale through your left nostril.
  • Open your right nostril and exhale through it, while closing the left.
  • Continue this rotation for 5 minutes, finishing by exhaling through your left nostril.

2013 study reported that people who tried nasal breathing exercises felt less stressed afterward.

6. Buteyko breathing

To practice buteyko breathing for sleep:

  • Sit in bed with your mouth gently closed (not pursed) and breathe through your nose at a natural pace for about 30 seconds.
  • Breathe a bit more intentionally in and out through your nose once.
  • Gently pinch your nose closed with your thumb and forefinger, keeping your mouth closed as well, until you feel that you need to take a breath again.
  • With your mouth still closed, take a deep breath in and out through your nose again.

Many people don’t realize that they are hyperventilating. This exercise helps you to reset to a normal breathing rhythm.

7. The Papworth method

In the Papworth method, you focus on your diaphragm to breathe more naturally:

  • Sit up straight, perhaps in bed if using this to fall asleep.
  • Take deep, methodical breaths in and out, counting to 4 with each inhale — through your mouth or nose — and each exhale, which should be through your nose.
  • Focus on your abdomen rising and falling, and listen for your breath sounds to come from your stomach.

This relaxing method is helpful for reducing habits of yawning and sighing.

8. Kapalbhati breathing exercise

Kapalbhati breathing involves a series and inhaling and exhaling exercises, involving these steps, as outlined by the Art of Living:

  • Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight. Place your hands on your knees, palms facing the sky. You may choose to sit cross-legged on the floor, on a chair with feet flat on the floor, or in Virasana Pose (sitting on your heels with knees bent and shins tucked beneath the thighs).
  • Take a deep breath in.
  • As you exhale, contract your belly, forcing the breath out in a short burst. You may keep a hand on your stomach to feel your abdominal muscles contract.
  • As you quickly release your abdomen, your breath should flow into your lungs automatically.
  • Take 20 such breaths to complete one round of Kapalbhati pranayama.
  • After completing one round, relax with your eyes closed and observe the sensations in your body.
  • Do two more rounds to complete your practice.

Kapalbhati breathing has been reported as helping open the sinuses and improving concentration. It’s considered an advanced breathing technique. It’s advisable to master other techniques, such as Bhramari pranayama, before attempting this one.

9. Box breathing

During box breathing, you want to focus intently on the oxygen you’re bringing in and pushing out:

  • Sit with your back straight, breathe in, and then try to push all the air out of your lungs as you exhale.
  • Inhale slowly through your nose and count to 4 in your head, filling your lungs with more air with each number.
  • Hold your breath and count to 4 in your head.
  • Slowly exhale through your mouth, focusing on getting all the oxygen out of your lungs.

Box breathing is a common technique during meditation, a very popular method of finding mental focus and relaxing. Meditation has a variety of known benefits for your overall health.

No matter which type of breathing exercise you prefer, the evidence is clear that breathing exercises can help you on relax, sleep, breathe more naturally and effectively

With so many varieties to choose from, you may find yourself fast asleep before you know it.

Breathing Exercises with COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a health condition that affects an individual’s ability to breathe well. It’s often associated with other conditions such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Symptoms include:

  • wheezing
  • chest tightness
  • shortness of breath
  • large amounts of mucus that collect in the lungs

These can worsen with time, but practicing breathing exercises can help you manage them.

When you practice regularly, breathing exercises can help you exert yourself less during daily activities. They can also potentially aid in your return to exercising, which can lead to you feeling more energetic overall.

Read on to learn about these five exercises that can be especially useful for people with COPD

  • pursed-lip breathing
  • coordinated breathing
  • deep breathing
  • huff cough
  • diaphragmatic breathing

Pursed lip breathing

According to the Cleveland Clinic, pursed-lip breathing has a range of benefits:

  • It’s been shown to reduce how hard you have to work to breathe.
  • It helps release the air trapped in the lungs.
  • It promotes relaxation.
  • It reduces shortness of breath.

Practicing this technique 4 to 5 times daily can help. Here’s how to practice pursed-lip breathing

  • While keeping your mouth closed, take a deep breath in through your nose, counting to 2. Follow this pattern by repeating in your head “inhale, 1, 2.” The breath doesn’t have to be deep. A typical inhale will do.
  • Put your lips together as if you’re starting to whistle or blow out candles on a birthday cake. This is known as “pursing” your lips.
  • While continuing to keep your lips pursed, slowly breathe out by counting to 4. Don’t try to force the air out, but instead breathe out slowly through your mouth.

Exercise tip: Pursed lip breathing is best for performing strenuous activities, such as climbing stairs.

Coordinated breathing

Feeling short of breath can cause anxiety that makes you hold your breath. To prevent this from occurring, you can practice coordinated breathing using these two steps:

  • Inhale through your nose before beginning an exercise.
  • While pursuing your lips, breathe out through your mouth during the most strenuous part of the exercise. An example could be when curling upward on a bicep curl.

Exercise tip: Coordinated breathing can be performed when you’re exercising or feeling anxious.

Deep breathing

Deep breathing prevents air from getting trapped in your lungs, which can cause you to feel short of breath. As a result, you can breathe in more fresh air.

Here’s how to practice deep breathing

  • Sit or stand with your elbows slightly back. This allows your chest to expand more fully.
  • Inhale deeply through your nose.
  • Hold your breath as you count to 5.
  • Release the air via a slow, deep exhale, through your nose, until you feel your inhaled air has been released.

Exercise tip: It’s best to do this exercise with other daily breathing exercises that can be performed for 10 minutes at a time, 3 to 4 times per day.

Huff cough

  • When you have COPD, mucus can build up more easily in your lungs. The huff cough is a breathing exercise designed to help you cough up mucus effectively without making you feel too tired.

Here’s how to practice the huff cough

  • Place yourself in a comfortable seated position. Inhale through your mouth, slightly deeper than you would when taking a normal breath.
  • Activate your stomach muscles to blow the air out in three even breaths while making the sounds “ha, ha, ha.” Imagine you’re blowing onto a mirror to cause it to steam.

Exercise tip: A huff cough should be less tiring than a traditional cough, and it can keep you from feeling worn out when coughing up mucus.

Diaphragmatic breathing

  • The diaphragm is an important muscle involved in the work of breathing.
  • People with COPD tend to rely more on the accessory muscles of the neck, shoulders, and back to breathe, rather than on the diaphragm.

Diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing helps to retrain this muscle to work more effectively. Here’s how to do it

  • While sitting or lying down with your shoulders relaxed, put a hand on your chest and place the other hand on your stomach.
  • Take a breath in through your nose for 2 seconds, feeling your stomach move outward. You’re doing the activity correctly if your stomach moves more than your chest.
  • Purse your lips and breathe out slowly through your mouth, pressing lightly on your stomach. This will enhance your diaphragm’s ability to release air.
  • Repeat the exercise as you are able to.

Exercise tip: This technique can be more complicated than the other exercises, so it’s best for a person with a little more practice under their belt. If you’re having difficulty, talk to your doctor or respiratory therapist.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), people with COPD who use breathing exercises experience greater improvements in exercise capacity than those who don’t.

9 Home Treatments for Shortness of Breath (Dyspnea)

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Shortness of breath, or dyspnea, is an uncomfortable condition that makes it difficult to fully get air into your lungs. Problems with your heart and lungs can harm your breathing.

Some people may experience shortness of breath suddenly for short periods of time. Others may experience it over the long term — several weeks or more.

In light of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, shortness of breath has become widely associated with this illness. Other common symptoms of COVID-19 include dry cough and fever.

Most people who develop COVID-19 will only experience mild symptoms. However, seek emergency medical attention if you experience:

  • trouble breathing
  • persistent tightness in your chest
  • blue lips
  • mental confusion

If your shortness of breath isn’t caused by a medical emergency, you could try several types of home treatments that are effective at helping alleviate this condition. Many simply involve changing position, which can help relax your body and airways.

Here are nine home treatments you can use to alleviate your shortness of breath:

1. Pursed-lip breathing

  • This is a simple way to control shortness of breath. It helps quickly slow your pace of breathing, which makes each breath deeper and more effective
  • It also helps release air that’s trapped in your lungs. It can be used any time you’re experiencing shortness of breath, especially during the difficult part of an activity, such as bending, lifting objects, or climbing stairs.

To perform pursed-lip breathing

  • Relax your neck and shoulder muscles.
  • Slowly breathe in through your nose for two counts, keeping your mouth closed.
  • Purse your lips as if you’re about to whistle.
  • Breathe out slowly and gently through your pursed lips to the count of four.

2. Sitting forward

Resting while sitting can help relax your body and make breathing easier.

  • Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, leaning your chest slightly forward.
  • Gently rest your elbows on your knees or hold your chin with your hands. Remember to keep your neck and shoulder muscles relaxed.

3. Sitting forward supported by a table

If you have both a chair and table to use, you may find this to be a slightly more comfortable sitting position in which to catch your breath.

  • Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, facing a table.
  • Lean your chest slightly forward and rest your arms on the table.
  • Rest your head on your forearms or on a pillow.

4. Standing with a supported back

Standing can also help relax your body and airways.

  • Stand near a wall, facing away, and rest your hips on the wall.
  • Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and rest your hands on your thighs.
  • With your shoulders relaxed, lean slightly forward, and dangle your arms in front of you.

5. Standing with supported arms

  • Stand near a table or other flat, sturdy piece of furniture that’s just below the height of your shoulder.
  • Rest your elbows or hands on the piece of furniture, keeping your neck relaxed.
  • Rest your head on your forearms and relax your shoulders.

6. Sleeping in a relaxed position

  • Many people experience shortness of breath while they sleep. This can lead to waking up frequently, which can diminish the quality and duration of your sleep.
  • Try lying on your side with a pillow between your legs and your head elevated by pillows, keeping your back straight. Or lie on your back with your head elevated and your knees bent, with a pillow under your knees.
  • Both of these positions help your body and airways relax, making breathing easier. Have your doctor assess you for sleep apnea and use a CPAP machine if recommended.

7. Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing can also help your shortness of breath. To try this breathing style

  • Sit in a chair with bent knees and relaxed shoulders, head, and neck.
  • Place your hand on your belly.
  • Breathe in slowly through your nose. You should feel your belly moving under your hand.
  • As you exhale, tighten your muscles. You should feel your belly fall inward. Breathe out through your mouth with pursed lips.
  • Put more emphasis on the exhale than the inhale. Keep exhaling for longer than usual before slowly inhaling again.
  • Repeat for about 5 minutes.
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8. Using a fan

  • One study found that cool air can help relieve shortness of breath. Pointing a small handheld fan toward your face can help your symptoms.

9. Drinking coffee

  • An early study indicated that caffeine relaxes the muscles in the airways of people with asthma. This can help improve lung function for up to four hours.

Lifestyle changes to treat shortness of breath

  • There are many possible causes of shortness of breath, some of which are serious and require emergency medical care. Less serious cases can be treated at home.

Lifestyle changes you can make to help keep shortness of breath at bay include

  • quitting smoking and avoiding tobacco smoke
  • avoiding exposure to pollutants, allergens, and environmental toxins
  • losing weight if you have obesity or overweight
  • avoiding exertion at high elevations
  • staying healthy by eating well, getting enough sleep, and seeing a doctor for any underlying medical issues
  • following the recommended treatment plan for any underlying illness such as asthma, COPD, or bronchitis

Remember, only a doctor can properly diagnose the cause of your shortness of breath.

Box Breathing

Box breathing, also known as square breathing, is a technique used when taking slow, deep breaths. It can heighten performance and concentration while also being a powerful stress reliever. It’s also called four-square breathing.

This technique can be beneficial to anyone, especially those who want to meditate or reduce stress. It’s used by everyone from athletes to U.S. Navy SEALs, police officers, and nurses.

You may find it particularly helpful if you have a lung disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Getting started with box breathing

Before you get started, make sure that you’re seated upright in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the floor. Try to be in a stress-free, quiet environment where you can focus on your breathing.

Keeping your hands relaxed in your lap with your palms facing up, focus on your posture. You should be sitting up straight. This will help you take deep breaths.

When you’re ready, start with step 1.

  • Step 1: Slowly exhale – Sitting upright, slowly exhale through your mouth, getting all the oxygen out of your lungs. Focus on this intention and be conscious of what you’re doing.
  • Step 2: Slowly inhale – Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose to the count of four. In this step, count to four very slowly in your head. Feel the air fill your lungs, one section at a time until your lungs are completely full and the air moves into your abdomen.
  • Step 3: Hold your breath – Hold your breath for another slow count of four.
  • Step 4: Exhale again – Exhale through your mouth for the same slow count of four, expelling the air from your lungs and abdomen, Be conscious of the feeling of the air leaving your lungs.
  • Step 5: Hold your breath again. Hold your breath for the same slow count of four before repeating this process.

Benefits of box breathing

According to the Mayo Clinic, there’s sufficient evidence that intentional deep breathing can actually calm and regulate the autonomic nervous system (ANS).

  • This system regulates involuntary body functions such as temperature. It can lower blood pressure and provide an almost immediate sense of calm.
  • The slow holding of breath allows CO2 to build up in the blood. An increased blood CO2 enhances the cardio-inhibitory response of the vagus nerve when you exhale and stimulates your parasympathetic system. This produces a calm and relaxed feeling in the mind and body.
  • Box breathing can reduce stress and improve your mood. That makes it an exceptional treatment for conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression.
  • It can also help treat insomnia by allowing you to calm your nervous system at night before bed. Box breathing can even be efficient at helping with pain management.

Tips for beginners

  • If you’re new to box breathing, it may be difficult to get the hang of it. You may get dizzy after a few rounds. This is normal. As you practice it more often, you’ll be able to go longer without dizziness. If you get dizzy, stay sitting for a minute and resume normal breathing.
  • To help you focus on your breathing, find a quiet, dimly lit environment to practice box breathing. This isn’t at all necessary to perform the technique, but it can help you focus on the practice if you’re new to it.
  • Ideally, you’ll want to repeat the box breathing cycle four times in one sitting.
  • Do box breathing several times a day as needed to calm your nerves and relieve stress

5 Ways to Keep Your Lungs Healthy and Whole

Most people want to get healthier. Rarely, though, do they think about protecting and maintaining the health of their lungs.

It’s time to change that. According to the National Heart, Blood, and Lung InstituteTrusted Source, chronic lower respiratory diseases — including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma — were the third leading cause of death in 2010. Lung diseases, excluding lung cancer, caused an estimated 235,000 deaths that year.

Include lung cancer, and the numbers go up. The American Lung Association (ALA) states that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women. An estimated 158,080 Americans were expected to die from it in 2016.

The truth is that your lungs, just like your heart, joints, and other parts of your body, age with time. They can become less flexible and lose their strength, which can make it more difficult to breathe. But by adopting certain healthy habits, you can better maintain the health of your lungs, and keep them working optimally even into your senior years.

1. Don’t smoke or stop smoking

  • You probably already know that smoking increases your risk of lung cancer. But that’s not the only disease it can cause. In fact, smoking is linked to most lung diseases, including COPD, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and asthma. It also makes those diseases more severe. Smokers are 12 to 13 times more likely to die from COPD than nonsmokers, for example.
  • Every time you smoke a cigarette, you inhale thousands of chemicals into your lungs, including nicotine, carbon monoxide, and tar. These toxins damage your lungs. They increase mucus, make it more difficult for your lungs to clean themselves, and irritate and inflame tissues. Gradually, your airways narrow, making it more difficult to breathe.
  • Smoking also causes lungs to age more rapidly. Eventually, the chemicals can change lung cells from normal to cancerous.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), more than 10 times as many U.S. citizens have died prematurely from cigarette smoking than have died in all the wars fought by the U.S. during its history. In addition, smoking causes about 90 percent of all lung cancer deaths in men and women. More women die from lung cancer each year than from breast cancer.
  • No matter how old you are or how long you’ve been a smoker, quitting can help. The ALA states that within just 12 hours of quitting, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal. Within a few months, your lung function begins to improve. Within a year, your risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker’s. And it only gets better the longer you stay smoke-free.
  • Quitting usually takes several attempts. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Combining counseling and medication may be the best way to succeed, according to a report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

2. Exercise to breathe harder

  • Besides avoiding cigarettes, getting regular exercise is probably the most important thing you can do for the health of your lungs. Just as exercise keeps your body in shape, it keeps your lungs in shape too.
  • When you exercise, your heart beats faster and your lungs work harder. Your body needs more oxygen to fuel your muscles. Your lungs step up their activity to deliver that oxygen while expelling additional carbon dioxide.
  • According to a recent article, during exercise, your breathing increases from about 15 times a minute to about 40 to 60 times a minute. That’s why it’s important to regularly do aerobic exercise that gets you breathing hard.
  • This type of exercise provides the best workout for your lungs. The muscles between your ribs expand and contract, and the air sacs inside your lungs work quickly to exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide. The more you exercise, the more efficient your lungs become.
  • Creating strong, healthy lungs through exercise helps you to better resist aging and disease. Even if you do develop lung disease down the road, exercise helps to slow the progression and keeps you active longer.

3. Avoid exposure to pollutants

  • Exposure to pollutants in the air can damage your lungs and accelerate aging. When they’re young and strong, your lungs can easily resist these toxins. As you get older, though, they lose some of that resistance and become more vulnerable to infections and disease.

Give your lungs a break. Reduce your exposure as much as you can

  • Avoid secondhand smoke, and try not to go outside during peak air pollution times.
  • Avoid exercising near heavy traffic, as you can inhale the exhaust.
  • If you’re exposed to pollutants at work, be sure to take all possible safety precautions. Certain jobs in construction, mining, and waste management can increase the risk of exposure to airborne pollutants.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that indoor pollution is typically worse than outdoor. That, plus the fact that many spend most of their time indoors these days, increases exposure to indoor pollutants.

Here are some tips for decreasing indoor pollutants

  • Make your home a smoke-free zone.
  • Dust the furniture and vacuum at least once a week.
  • Open a window frequently to increase indoor air ventilation.
  • Avoid synthetic air fresheners and candles that can expose you to additional chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene. Instead, use an aromatherapy diffuser and essential oils to more naturally scent the air.
  • Keep your home as clean as you can. Mold, dust, and pet dander can all get into your lungs and cause irritation.
  • Use natural cleaning products when possible, and open a window when using products that create fumes.
  • Make sure you have adequate fans, exhaust hoods, and other ventilation methods throughout your home.

4. Prevent infections

  • Infections can be particularly dangerous for your lungs, especially as you age. Those who already have lung diseases like COPD are particularly at risk for infections. Even healthy seniors, though, can easily develop pneumonia if they’re not careful.
  • The best way to avoid lung infections is to keep your hands clean. Wash regularly with warm water and soap, and avoid touching your face as much as possible.
  • Drink plenty of water and eat lots of fruits and vegetables — they contain nutrients that help boost your immune system.
  • Stay up-to-date with your vaccinations. Get a flu shot each year, and if you’re 65 or older, get a pneumonia vaccination as well.

5. Breathe deeply

  • If you’re like many people, you take shallow breaths from your chest area, using only a small portion of your lungs. Deep breathing helps clear the lungs and creates a full oxygen exchange.
  • In a small study published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology researchers had a group of 12 volunteers perform deep breathing exercises for 2, 5, and 10 minutes. They tested the volunteers’ lung function both before and after the exercises.
  • They found that there was a significant increase in vital capacity after 2 and 5 minutes of deep breathing exercise. Vital capacity is the maximum amount of air the volunteers could exhale from their lungs. The researchers concluded that deep breathing, even for just a few minutes, was beneficial for lung function.
  • The ALA agrees that breathing exercises can make your lungs more efficient. To try it yourself, sit somewhere quietly, and slowly breathe in through your nose alone. Then breathe out at least twice as long through your mouth. It may help to count your breaths. For example, as you inhale count 1-2-3-4. Then as you exhale, count 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8.
  • Shallow breaths come from the chest, and deeper breaths come from the belly, where your diaphragm sits. Be aware of your belly rising and falling as you practice. When you do these exercises, you may also find you feel less stressed and more relaxed

8 Deep Breathing Exercises to Reduce Anxiety

Chest vs. Abdominal Breathing

Most people aren’t really conscious of the way they’re breathing, but generally, there are two types of breathing patterns

  • Diaphragmatic (abdominal) breathing: This type of breathing is a type of deep, even breathing that engages your diaphragm, allowing your lungs to expand and creating negative pressure that drives air in through the nose and mouth, filling your lungs with air.3 This is the way newborn babies naturally breathe. You’re also probably using this pattern of breathing when you’re in a relaxed stage of sleep.
  • Thoracic (chest) breathing: This type of breathing comes from the chest and involves short, rapid breaths. When you’re anxious, you might not even be aware that you’re breathing this way. The easiest way to determine your breathing pattern is to put one hand on your upper abdomen near the waist and the other in the middle of your chest. As you breathe, notice which hand raises the most.

If you’re breathing properly, your abdomen should expand and contract with each breath (and the hand on it should raise the most). It’s especially important to be aware of these differences during stressful and anxious times when you’re more likely to breathe from your chest.

Breathing Exercises

The next time you’re feeling anxious, there are a variety of deep breathing exercises to try.

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Alternate-Nostril Breathing

Alternate-nostril breathing (nadi sodhana) involves blocking off one nostril at a time as you breathe through the other, alternating between nostrils in a regular pattern.4 It’s best to practice this type of breathing in a seated position in order to maintain your posture.

  • Position your right hand by bending your pointer and middle fingers into your palm, leaving your thumb, ring finger, and pinky extended. This is known as Vishnu mudra in yoga.
  • Close your eyes or softly gaze downward.
  • Inhale and exhale to begin.
  • Close off your right nostril with your thumb.
  • Inhale through your left nostril.
  • Close off your left nostril with your ring finger.
  • Open and exhale through your right nostril.
  • Inhale through your right nostril.
  • Close off your right nostril with your thumb.
  • Open and exhale through your left nostril.
  • Inhale through your left nostril.

Do your best to work up to 10 rounds of this breathing pattern. If you begin to feel lightheaded, take a break. Release both nostrils and breathe normally.

Belly Breathing

According to The American Institute of Stress, 20 to 30 minutes of belly breathing each day will reduce anxiety and stress.5 Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit or lie down. For example, try sitting in a chair, sitting cross-legged, or lying on your back with a small pillow under your head and under your knees.

  • Place one hand on your upper chest and the other hand on your belly, below the ribcage.
  • Allow your belly to relax, without forcing it inward by squeezing or clenching your muscles.
  • Breathe in slowly through your nose. The air should move into your nose and downward so that you feel your stomach rise with your other hand and fall inward (toward your spine).
  • Exhale slowly through slightly pursed lips. Take note of the hand on your chest, which should remain relatively still.

Although the sequence frequency will vary according to your health, most people begin by doing the exercise three times and working up to five to 10 minutes, one to four times a day.

Box Breathing

Also known as four-square breathing, box breathing is very simple to learn and practice. In fact, if you’ve ever noticed yourself inhaling and exhaling to the rhythm of a song, you’re already familiar with this type of paced breathing. It goes like this

  • Exhale to a count of four.
  • Hold your lungs empty for a four-count.
  • Inhale to a count of four.
  • Hold air in your lungs for a count of four.
  • Exhale and begin the pattern anew.

4-7-8 Breathing

The 4-7-8 breathing exercise, also called the relaxing breath, acts as a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. At first, it’s best to perform the exercise seated with your back straight. Once you become more familiar with the breathing exercise, however, you can perform it while lying in bed:

  • Place and keep the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue behind your upper front teeth for the duration of the exercise.
  • Completely exhale through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.

Lion’s Breath

Lion’s breath, or simhasana in Sanskrit, during which you stick out your tongue and roar like a lion, is another helpful deep breathing practice. It can help relax the muscles in your face and jaw, alleviate stress, and improve cardiovascular functions.

The exercise is best performed in a comfortable, seated position, leaning forward slightly with your hands on your knees or the floor.

  • Spread your fingers as wide as possible.
  • Inhale through your nose.
  • Open your mouth wide, stick out your tongue, and stretch it down toward your chin.
  • Exhale forcefully, carrying the breath across the root of your tongue.
  • While exhaling, make a “ha” sound that comes from deep within your abdomen.
  • Breathe normally for a few moments.
  • Repeat lion’s breath up to seven times.

Mindful Breathing

Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on your breathing and bringing your attention to the present without allowing your mind to drift off to the past or future.

  • Choose a calming focus, including a sound (“om”), positive word (“peace”), or phrase (“breathe in calm, breath out tension”) to repeat silently as you inhale or exhale.
  • Let go and relax. When you notice your mind has drifted, take a deep breath and gently return your attention to the present.

Pursed-Lip Breathing

Pursed-lip breathing is a simple breathing technique that will help make deep breaths slower and more intentional. This technique has been found to benefit people who have anxiety associated with lung conditions like emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

  • Sit in a comfortable position, with your neck and shoulders relaxed.
  • Keeping your mouth closed, inhale slowly through your nostrils for two seconds.
  • Exhale through your mouth for four seconds, puckering your mouth as if giving a kiss.
  • Keep your breath slow and steady while breathing out.

To get the correct breathing pattern, experts recommend practicing pursed-lip breathing four to five times a day.

Resonance Breathing

Resonance breathing, or coherent breathing, can help you get into a relaxed state and reduce anxiety.

  • Lie down and close your eyes.
  • Gently breathe in through your nose, mouth closed, for a count of six seconds. Don’t fill your lungs too full of air.
  • Exhale for six seconds, allowing your breath to leave your body slowly and gently without forcing it.
  • Continue for up to 10 minutes.
  • Take a few additional minutes to be still and focus on how your body feels.

Simple Breathing Exercise

You can perform this exercise as often as needed. It can be done standing up, sitting down, or lying down. If you find this exercise difficult or believe it’s making you anxious or panicky, stop for now. Try it again in a day or so and build up the time gradually.

  • Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Your abdomen should expand, and your chest should rise very little.
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth. As you blow air out, purse your lips slightly, but keep your jaw relaxed. You may hear a soft “whooshing” sound as you exhale.
  • Repeat this breathing exercise. Do it for several minutes until you start to feel better.

Sometimes people with a panic disorder initially feel increased anxiety or panic while doing this exercise. This may be due to anxiety caused by focusing on your breathing, or you may be unable to do the exercise correctly without some practice.

Benefits of Breathing Exercises

  • Improves immunity – Breathing exercises increase the amount of oxygen in the body and increases the release of toxins with carbon-di-oxide. Increased oxygen in the cells and tissues makes them healthier and helps them perform better. Healthier and proper functioning organs improve the immune system of the body as well. Clean blood full of oxygen fights better against infectious bacteria and viruses. Improved breathing will also help in better absorption of vitamins and minerals in the body.
  • Clams down anxiety – Psychologists swear by deep breathing exercises to tackle anxiety attacks and also as a long-term treatment practice. Deep breathing helps in bringing heart rate to normal and increases oxygen levels. This helps in giving the brain the signal to unwind. Regular deep breathing will help in balancing the hormones releasing endorphins in the body.
  • Increases sleep quality – A deep breathing exercise that entails complete exhalation of the air out provides better sleep. Breathing detoxifies the body and signals to calm down. A deep breathing exercise before bed can help even insomnia suffering people.
  • Decreases toxicity of the body – Stress, eating habits, and shallow exhalation turns the body acidic, and with deep breathing, all the toxins are released turning the body alkaline. It detoxifies the body. Deep breathing also helps in releasing the lymph around the body and removes strain from the body.
  • Improves digestive system – Deep breathing increases oxygen in the digestive organ and they perform better relieving from any gastrointestinal issues, constipation, indigestion, etc. proper digestion keeps the body energetic and healthy.
  • Good for cardiovascular health – Breathing exercises will help strengthen the cardiovascular muscles and improve blood pressure. Regular deep breathing also decreases the chances of stroke. Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve which reduces the ‘fight or flight response.
  • Improve concentration and cognitive properties – Regular breathing exercises can improve focus and concentration. It also improves memory and cognitive properties and brain functioning.
  • Gives healthy and glowing skin – Breathing exercises increase the oxygen concentration in cells giving skin a healthy and inner glow. It makes your skin healthy. Breathing exercises burn fat and help in balance hormones which results in less stress and clear skin.
  • Reduces inflammation in the body – Sheetali pranayama is one such breathing exercise that helps in cooling the body down. It triggers a powerful evaporating cooling effect which brings down inflamed agitated emotions and decreases inflammation in the digestive system which stresses the whole body.
  • Helps sinusitis – Yogic breathing practices can help in sinusitis as the vibrations produced in this exercise dislodge all mucous and drain sinusitis from the body.
  • Makes the body and joints strong – Breathing exercises increase the oxygen level in the cells and it affects joints in a good way. It makes joints and muscles strong. It helps in reducing the strain of physical exercise and the chances of wearing the muscles down. Body’s ability to handle intense physical movement increases
  • Strengthen lungs – Lifestyle habits have greatly affected the lungs and their lungs. Breathing exercise helps in increasing the air build-up in the lungs and diaphragm. It increases lung elasticity which gives more breathing space.
  • Natural painkiller – When you deep breathe, the body releases endorphins, which are the feel-good hormones and a natural pain killer created by the body itself.
  • Improves blood flow –  When we take deep breaths, the upward and downward movement of the diaphragm helps remove the toxins from the body promoting better blood flow. Deep breathing brings fresh oxygen and exhales out toxins and carbon dioxide. When the blood is oxygenated, it ensures the smoother functioning of your vital organs, including the immune system. A cleaner, toxin-free, and healthier blood supply help ward off infection-causing germs from the base and strengthens your immunity. Deep breathing also acts as a natural toxin reliever. It also benefits the absorption of vitamins and nutrients in the body, making sure you recover faster as well.
  • Calms down anxiety – Practising deep breathing is a hack a lot of experts and psychologists swear by to treat anxious thoughts and nervousness in a jiffy. Deep breathing slows down your heart rate, allows the body to take in more oxygen, and ultimately signals the brain to wind down. It also balances your hormones- lowering down cortisol levels, increasing the endorphin rush in the body.
  • Increases energy level  – Due to increased blood flow, we get more oxygen into our blood. Increased oxygen results in increased energy levels.

  • Improves posture – Believe it or not, bad posture is related to incorrect breathing. If you don’t believe it, try it yourself. Try to breathe deeply and notice how your body starts to straighten up during the process. When you fill your lungs with air, this automatically encourages you to straighten up your spine.
  • Reduces inflammation – A lot is said that diseases like cancer only thrive in bodies that are acidic in nature. Deep breathing is said to reduce the acidity in your body, thereby making it alkaline. Stress also increases the acidity level in the body. Breathing also reduces stress and thus acidity.
  • It detoxifies the body – Carbon dioxide is a natural toxic waste that comes out from our bodies only through breathing. But when our lungs are compromised by shallow breathing the other detoxification system starts working harder to expel this waste. This can make our body weaker and lead to illness.
  • Stimulates lymphatic system – As our breathing is what moves the lymph, shallow breathing can lead to a sluggish lymphatic system that will not detoxify properly. Deep breathing will help you get the lymph flowing properly so that your body can work more efficiently.
  • Improves digestion – Breathing deep supplies more oxygen to all our body parts including our digestive system, thus making it work more efficiently. The increased blood flow due to deep breathing also encourages intestinal action which further improves your overall digestion. In addition, deep breathing results in a calmer nervous system, which in turn also enhances optimal digestion.
  • Breathing relaxes mind and body – When you are angry, tensed, or scared, your muscles are tightened and your breathing becomes shallow. Your breathing constricts. At this time your body is not getting the amount of oxygen it requires. Long deep breathing reverses this process, allowing your body (and mind) to become calmer.



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