Breath is your most accessible tool for relieving (and preventing) stress. Don't take it for granted. Try these breathing exercises to face stressful situations and people with a steady hand and an open heart. It's better for your heart.
The breath not only keeps you alive. It’s the portal to the present moment, one lived fully... the only moment you really have.
“The quality of our breath expresses our inner feelings.” – T.K.V. Desikachar
When you’re upset or stressed, your breathing becomes quick and shallow, causing a chain reaction in the rest of your body. By focusing on your breathing during times of stress, you can essentially rise above the situation and come back to peace.
3 Deep Breathing Exercises for Stress-Relief
1. Ujjayi Breathing
Ujjayi (pronounced oo-jai) is an ancient yogic breathing technique commonly referred to as the “oceanic breath.” Though often used when practicing hatha yoga, and even during aerobic exercise to improve respiratory efficiency, Ujjayi can help you stay focused and centered as you move through daily life.
Follow these steps:
- Seal your lips and breathe in and out through your nose.
- Inhale more deeply through your nose.
- Exhale slowly through your nose while constricting the muscles in the back of your throat.
To get the sound right, try practicing your exhales with an open mouth first, as if you were trying to fog up a window. With a closed mouth, attempt to recreate the “HAAAAH” sound in your exhales.
The sound your breath makes should resemble ocean waves—your inhales can be compared to water gathering up to form a wave, and your exhales can be compared to the waves crashing into the shore. Ujjayi breathing may even remind you of Darth Vader from Star Wars.
When you feel agitated, nervous, or stressed, try Ujjayi breathing to balance the mind, calm nerves, and settle worries.
“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” – Amit Ray
2. Abdominal Breathing
Abdominal breathing—also known as diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing—is actually a natural and relaxed form of breathing that occurs in all mammals when there is no clear and present danger in their environment.
When you’re about to face a stressful event, try this breathing technique to balance your energies.
Follow these steps:
- Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.
- Take a slow, deep breath in through the nose to the count of 10. Your abdomen (not your chest) should expand with each inhale.
- Exhale slowly and completely for a similar count.
- Practice 5-10 slow, deep breaths per minute for 10 minutes, or as long as you can.
“You don’t always need a plan. Sometimes you just need to breathe, trust, let go and see what happens.” – Mandy Hale
3. Alternate Nostril Breathing
Also called Nadi Shodhana, alternate nostril breathing brings inner calm and balance, harmonizing the left and right sides of the brain. This technique helps bring the mind back to the present moment, clears subtle energy channels, releases accumulated tension, and may provide therapeutic benefits to the circulatory and respiratory systems.
When you’re feeling scattered, tense, or lethargic, try alternate nostril breathing to clear your mind and energize your body.
Follow these steps:
- Sit in a comfortable position with a straight spine, relaxed shoulders, and eyes closed.
- Place your left hand on the left knee, palm open to the sky.
- Place the tip of the index finger and middle finger of the right hand in between the eyebrows, the ring finger and little finger on the left nostril, and the thumb on the right nostril. You don’t need to apply any pressure.
- Close your right nostril with your thumb and breathe out gently through the left nostril.
- Inhale through the left nostril.
- At the peak of inhalation, close the left nostril with the ring finger and little finger, and exhale through the right nostril.
- Inhale through the right nostril, close it off with the right thumb, and exhale through the left nostril.
This is one round. Continue this pattern for 9 rounds, alternating your breath between left and right nostrils. After each exhalation, you breathe in from the same nostril from which you exhaled.
Do not use Ujjayi breath with this exercise, but instead keep your breathing natural and relaxed.
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
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Which of these exercises could you use today?
Tell me in the comments. I read every single one, and I'd love to know!
P.S. Need to stop taking stress to bed with you? Get my book Sleep Rituals for 100 at-home practices that are all about you + the present moment. There's a whole chapter with breathing exercises that you can use anytime. To feel better. To come home... to yourself.