For better of for worse – breathing is automatic and controlled by the brainstem. When we breath too fast, or uncontrolled, our brain gets the message that we are in danger and the sympathetic nervous system activates that “flight or fight” response. When we take slow, steady breaths, our brains get the message that everything is OK and and activates the parasympathetic, or “rest and digest” response. Through mindfulness practice, I’ve learned that breathing helps to control the mind and counter potentially harmful bodily responses to stress. 

This is not anecdotal! Studies have found, for example, that breathing practices can help reduce symptoms associated with attention deficit disorder, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder [1].  The more I practice deep and controlled breathing, the more natural it becomes. I’ve learned to rely on it to help me through stressful moments. You can try this too! It doesn’t matter whether you are stressed out at work, recovering from a hard day at the office, or tossing and turning on your bed.  If you can set aside a few minutes each day to breathe — I promise you will find these simple exercise extremely helpful in managing stress.

Here are five simple breathing exercises -all through the nose, which adds a natural resistance to the breath. Try each out, selecting the one that works best for you; and in response to different types of stress.

  1. Equal Breathing Balance in the body is always a good things. To begin, inhale for four counts, then exhale for four counts.
    When it works best: This works anytime, anyplace and is very effective before bed or while lying in bed.
    Difficulty level: beginner
  2. Breath Counting As you breathe in, count “one” gently in your head, count “two” as you breathe out, count “three” as you inhale again, and so on.
    When it works best: When distracted, need to concentrate
    Difficulty level: beginner
  3. 4-7-8 Breaths Inhale deeply through your nose, expanding the belly first (not the chest area) for a count of 4. Hold the breath at the top of the inhale for a 7-count. Release the breath through your mouth, slowly controlling the exhale for an 8-count
    When it works best: Before bedtime, mild to moderate anxiety and food cravings. US-based sleep expert claims this breathing exercise can help you fall asleep in less than 60-seconds
    Difficulty level: beginner
  4. Take 5 or Finger Breathing
    Fan you hand out “like a star,” and place it atop a table, on a knee, or other surface. Take your pointer finger from the opposite hand and begin to trace along the hand that is fanned out. Inhale through the nose as you trace the outside of your thumb, then exhale through the mouth as you trace along the inside of your thumb. Inhale as you trace the outside of your pointer finger, exhale as you trace the inside of your pointer finger…and so on and so forth until all of your fingers have been traced.

    When it works best: Managing big emotions, in the heat of the moment
    Difficulty level: beginner
  5. Alternate Nostril Breathing Keeping the left nostril closed, inhale deeply through your right nostril. Seal your right nostril again with your thumb, then release your left nostril. Exhale out of your left nostril.
    When it works best: High noon, or whenever it’s time to focus, focus, focus.
    Difficulty level: Intermediate

Have you tried any of these breathing exercises? What has been your experience? I find these exercises to be easy,  but sometimes I use apps, depending on my headspace. Below are some apps that I can recommend if you want some additional guidance.


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