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Why slowing your breathing helps you relax

Frequency of breath

Even though we have been breathing for all our lives, we can still learn a lot about this most basic instinct.

Quick, shallow, and unfocused breathing may contribute to anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure. However, scientists find that around six exhalations a minute can be restorative, triggering a relaxation response in the brain and body.


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Why slowing your breathing helps you relax

Why slowing your breathing helps you relax


Key Ideas

Frequency of breath

Even though we have been breathing for all our lives, we can still learn a lot about this most basic instinct.

Quick, shallow, and unfocused breathing may contribute to anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure. However, scientists find that around six exhalations a minute can be restorative, triggering a relaxation response in the brain and body.


Breathwork is not the same as mindfulness. Mindfulness involves passive observation of the breath, whereas breathwork requires you to actively change the way you breathe.

Breathwork includes ensuring you breath with your diaphragm, rather than the movement of your chest. It will fill your lungs with more air while also slowing the pace of your breathing.

Speed ramp to relaxation

Right breathing can have a profound effect on calming the mind quickly and can act as a speed ramp into the meditation practice by getting you to that place of no-thought.

Slow breathing benefits

Slow breathing is a quick and easy way to change your state, whether it is to decrease stress or increase your energy and focus, or even in creative problem-solving. Other science-backed benefits include:

  • There is a short-term reduction in blood pressure after guided, slow breathing exercises.
  • It can alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • It appears to help relieve insomnia.
  • It can improve people’s management of pain.
  • It can help patients cope with chronic conditions like arthritis.


    Breathing exercises

    Breathing is at the core of ancient (and currently trendy) mindfulness practices, from yoga and tai chi to meditation.

    However, studies suggest that breathing exercises alone, derived from...

    Deep, controlled breathing

    It involves filling the lungs to the max and goes by various names like belly or diaphragmatic breathing.

    It has been linked to improved cognitive performance, lower stress levels, and lower blood pressure.

    Breathing and yoga
    Belief in the benefits of controlled breathing goes back centuries.

    Central to ancient Hindu philosophy was prana, described as vital “airs” or “energies” flowing through the body. Stemming from that belief, yoga was built on pranayama or breath retention. 

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    Shallow breathing

    We loose the ability to breath deeply naturally as we age: deep breathing comes naturally to children, but we lose the ability because we’re in a constant state of fight-or-flight, low-level str...

    Controlled breathing

    ... is the fastest, most effective way to trigger the relaxation response, enabling you to think more clearly and perform better under pressure.

    Navy Seal tricks

    The Navy SEALs use 2 breathing techniques that force the body into a more relaxed state when they’re in a high-pressure situation:

    • Tactical breathing
    • Box breathing.

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    Sama Vritti or “Equal Breathing”

    How it’s done:  Inhale for a count of 4, then exhale for a count of 4, all through the nose, which adds a natural resistance to the breath. Once you manage it, you can go up to a c...

    Abdominal Breathing Technique
    How it’s done: With one hand on the chest and the other on the belly, take a deep breath in through the nose, ensuring the diaphragm inflates with enough air to create a stretch in the lungs. The goal: 6 to 10 deep, slow breaths per minute for 10 minutes each day to experience immediate reductions to heart rate and blood pressure.

    When it works best: Before an exam, or any stressful event.

    Nadi Shodhana or “Alternate Nostril Breathing”

    How it’s done: Starting in a comfortable meditative pose, hold the right thumb over the right nostril and inhale deeply through the left nostril. At the peak of inhalation, close off the left nostril with the ring finger, then exhale through the right nostril. Continue the pattern, inhaling through the right nostril, closing it off with the right thumb and exhaling through the left nostril.

    When it works best: Crunch time, or whenever it’s time to focus or energize.

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    4-7-8 Breathing
    Created by Dr. Andrew Weil this is breathing exercise to help you relax: 
    1. First, let your lips part. Exhaling completely through your mouth.
    2. Next, close your lips, inhaling sil...
    Breathing Techniques for Muscle Tension Relief
    Breathing Techniques for Muscle Tension Relief
    1. Stand up straight and bend forward at the waist. Bend knees slightly, letting your arms hang limply, close to the floor.
    2. Inhale slowly and deeply, and return to a stan...
    Breathing Techniques for Side Pain

    Practicing deep “belly breathing” can reduce the stress on the supporting ligaments of the diaphragm and can help relieve side stitches. 

    Belly breath: Lie down on the floor and place a hand on your belly. Breathe deeply. If you feel your hand rise and fall slightly with your breathing, you’re belly breathing. If your chest is moving instead of your stomach, you’re not breathing deeply enough, and need to adjust.  

    Breathing Techniques for Increased Energy
    1. Sit up tall, and relax your shoulders. 
    2. Keep your mouth closed and inhale rapidly through your nose with quick, short breaths (exhale quickly as well). 
    3. Try doing that for about 10 seconds
    4. Take a 15-30 second break and breathe normally. Repeat several times.

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    Daily interruptions

    On average, we experience an interruption every 8 minutes or about 7 or 8 per hour. In an 8t-hour day, that is about 60 interruptions. The average interruption takes about 5 minutes, so that...

    Myth of multitasking

    We’re not actually multitasking; rather, we are switching rapidly between different activities.

    Better concentration makes life easier and less stressful and we will be more productive. Practice concentration by finding things to do that specifically engage you for a period of time to the exclusion of everything else.

    The ‘five more’ rule

    ... for learning to concentrate better:

    Whenever you feel like quitting – just do five more – five more minutes, five more exercises, five more pages – which will extend your focus. 

    The rule pushes you just beyond the point of frustration and helps build mental concentration.

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    Mindful Wakeup
    Mindful Wakeup

    First thing in the morning:

    • Close your eyes and connect with the sensations of your seated body.
    • Take three long, deep, nourishing breaths—breathing in through your nose and out ...
    Mindful Eating
    • Breathe before eating. 
    • Listen to your body and measure your hunger.
    • Eat according to your hunger. You can more mindfully choose what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat. 
    • Practice peaceful eating. It’s not easy to digest or savor your food if you aren’t relaxed.
    • If you don’t love it, don’t eat it. Make a mindful choice about what to eat based on what you really enjoy.
    Mindful Pause
    • Trip over what you want to do. If you intend to do some yoga or to meditate, put your yoga mat or your meditation cushion in the middle of your floor.
    • Refresh your triggers regularly - add variety or make them funny so they stick with you longer.
    • Create new patterns. You could try a series of “If this, then that” messages to create easy reminders to shift into slow brain.

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    Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

    A health condition that affects an individual’s ability to breathe well, often associated with other conditions such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Symptoms include: wheezing, c...

    Pursed lip breathing
    1. While keeping your mouth closed, take a deep breath in through your nose, counting to 2. The breath does not have to be deep. 
    2. Put your lips together as if you are starting to whistle or blow out candles on a birthday cake. This is known as “pursing” your lips.
    3. 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.
    Pursed lip breathing benefits:
    • It’s been shown to reduce how hard a person has to work to breathe.
    • It helps release air trapped in the lungs.
    • It promotes relaxation.
    • It reduces shortness of breath.

    Practice it 4 to 5 times per day, daily.

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

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    Sleep deprivation
    Sleep deprivation

    Willpower, memory, judgement, and attention all suffer when you are sleep deprived.

    You drop things, crave junk food sugar, overeat, gain weight. You’re more irritable, negative, emotio...

    Get through sleep deprivation:
    • Stabilize your blood sugar, by eating hearty food (protein and fat) more often.
    • Reduce refined carbs and increase fats and proteins.
    • B-complex vitamin supplements can give you an immediate boost in alertness and mental clarity.
    • Soak in an Epsom salt bath - might even help you get enough energy to exercise the next day.
    • Drink more water than you usually do to help compensate.
    • Exercise is the single best way to “take out the trash” in your body, and after staying up more hours than you should.
    Anxiety Management

    Anxiety is a common daily struggle for many. And one of the main ways of dealing with anxiety is to medicate. 

    But modern research on ancient techniques like

    Anxiety’s And Your Breath

    Your emotions alter your breathing and vice versa. Taking slow, deep and mindful breaths can trick your brain into releasing calming hormones to combat the feelings of anxiousness.

    A Breathing Technique
    1. Imagine your body as a balloon that slowly inflates and slowly deflates. Keep this image in your mind to get the maximum benefits from this breathing technique.
    2. Close your eyes and breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose.
    3. Hold your breath for 3 seconds.
    4. Slowly exhale through your mouth like you’re blowing a thin wisp of air until you have no more air in your lungs to breathe out.
    5. Repeat as many times as needed to calm yourself down.