Breathing exercises to reduce stress and anxiety

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March 17, 2020

During times of high stress, it is important to become familiar with simple techniques that centre and refocus the mind. In this blog post, I will walk you through a technique commonly found in yoga and meditation practice. Students often find success using this technique to calm the mind when facing stressful tasks like presenting or writing exams. It’s also used in high-level professional sports and other activities that require a calm, focused mine.

You can do this breathing exercise standing, but it will work best if you are sitting or reclined in a comfortable position, as this is when your body—and therefore your breathing—is most at ease. For exercises like this, there are no strict rules for duration, but sticking to at least two minutes will be optimal for clearing the mind and reducing stress. If you only have a few moments, a short session is better than none at all.

If you can, close your eyes to reduce external stimulus and eliminate any external sounds that may be distracting during your practice.

Begin by breathing through your nose with your mouth closed, taking five to six regular breaths, without trying to exercise any control over them. Focus on the quality of your breathing—the feeling as it enters and exits the body. Use your breathing as a way to centre the mind into your body, allowing any thoughts that enter your mind to gently melt away, and always coming back to your breathing.

Once your mind is completely focused on your breathing, start taking deep breaths. As you inhale through your nose, focus on filling your belly, then your chest, until you feel it move all the way up to your collar bones. Once you have completely inhaled, take a brief pause, then very slowly release your breath—starting at your collar bones, moving through to your chest, and finally back to your belly. Again, once you’ve finished exhaling, take a brief pause before repeating the exercise.

A great visual cue for this is to picture ocean waves rolling into shore as you inhal—and watching them very slowly drift back to the ocean as you exhale. As you are continue through the breathing cycle, gradually increase the duration of the exhale and the depth of the inhale.

So, how does this breathwork help during stressful times? In simple terms, it stimulates the vagus nerve, which is responsible for slowing the heart rate, and can help to combat fight-or-flight stress responses and improve heart rate variability.

We hope this will provide some much deserved tranquility during these challenging times. Just remember to breathe … and wash your hands.


Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels