Respiration or breathing is a necessity of life. So what’s the big deal? Why learn a new technique on something that you do automatically? Intentional breathing is the answer to many of your problems.
Respire means to breathe again: “re” translates to “again,” and “spirare” translates to “to breathe” (1)
In the era of COVID-19, people are more stressed than ever before. A study by the American Psychological Association (2) found that the pandemic is creating more cases of stress and higher levels.
In these stress-filled times, breathing exercises are one of the few ways we can find inner peace. Breathing techniques and meditation allow us to make peace with the external anxiety, depression, loneliness, and stress.
If you’ve never tried breathwork before, then you might be a little skeptical. Luckily, we’ve gathered ten of the best breathing exercise for newcomers and veterans alike. Let’s learn about how breathing and meditation can make positive changes in our lives.
why breathing helps
Breathing properly benefits our wellbeing perhaps more than we recognize.
Perhaps the most well-documented benefit is reduced stress and improved mood. However, the list doesn’t end there. Breathing exercises can also:
- Improved sleep
- Improve your cardiovascular health
- Reduce depression and anxiety
- Boost your energy levels
- Activate mindfulness
What are the benefits of breathing exercises?
When we breathe, we inhale life-giving oxygen (O2) that fuels every cell in our body. Oxygen is required for our brain and our body to function. Oxygen is translated into energy that the body uses for digestion and all of our other bodily functions. In exchange for this oxygen intake, we exhale carbon dioxide (CO2), a natural byproduct of respiration. CO2 helps trees, plants and the earth to perform their requisite processes and cleans the air. Indoor plants are beneficial especially during current times while we are spending more of our time at home and indoors.
Learn more about trees here.
Back to breathing, in most cases, three minutes is the maximum amount of time a person can go without oxygen before incurring brain damage (3). There are people who have trained their body and their brain to endure a much longer hypoxic time interval. “Hypoxia” is a partial lack of oxygen where “anoxia” is defined as a complete lack of oxygen (4). The less oxygen we have in our system, the harder our body has to work to perform its basic functions. Intentional breathing increases oxygens’s effectiveness with less effort.
Just like the mind-muscle connection optimizes results when learning a new skill or performing tasks such lifting weights, focused breathing also offers bountiful benefits to your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being.
mechanics of breathing
When we breathe, human beings’ lungs expand filling the lungs with a mixture of oxygen and air with each inhalation and decrease lung volume as we exhale (5). The inhalation process requires the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles (the muscles situated between the ribs that move the chest wall or the front of the thoracic cavity), to contract in order to expand the lung volume.
According to Boyle’s Law, volume and pressure are inversely related; when volume decreases, then pressure increases proportionally and vice versa. Muscles activate to widen the space for air to enter allowing the volume to increase causing the pressure to decrease in the lungs. The air then enters the lungs to balance the pressure difference and voila we have inspiration or inhalation.
During exhalation the muscles relax, allowing the diaphragm to relax, the lungs return to their original decreased volume state; increasing the pressure moving air out of the lungs (5).
the best breathing exercises
The rich world of breathing techniques offer a multitude of mental, physical and emotional benefits. Deep breathing techniques are often employed to help soothe anxiety and depression. This is due to the relaxing feeling that the exercise produces.
Many ancient cultures including the Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Hawaiin, Hebrew and Egyptian civilizaitons have been practicing and perfecting different ways of breathing for centuries. Intentional breathing improves vitality, immunity, appreciation and an appetite for life. Focused breathing calms the mind, relieves stress, and improves happiess.
Breathing or the body’s breathing rate is managed by the autonomic nervous system which means that your body breathes whether you remember to or not. You can’t forget to breathe.
As such, we should learn from their example. To help you get started, we’ve organized ten breathing exercises you can begin incorporating into your daily routine immediately. If you’re a beginner, you might want to check out this crash course in breathwork.
top 10 breathing techniques
1. deep breathing
Deep breathing is considered one of the best breathing techniques for anxiety. It’s good to practice deep breathing whenever you encounter a stressful situation. You can apply this breathing technique to many circumstances.
1. First, find a comfortable space. Ideally, this will be a location where you aren’t interrupted. However, any spot will do in a pinch. Next, lie or sit down. Relax your shoulders. Once you’re settled, begin inhaling slowly through your nose. Fill your lungs fully during this process.
You should feel your chest and abdomen expand completely. Once your lungs can’t take anymore, hold your breath for five seconds. Then, exhale slowly through your mouth. If it feels more natural, then you can use your nose too. You can repeat this exercise as many times as you need to.
2. humming bee breath
This type of breathing exercise is traditionally associated with the yoga practice known as bhramari. Humming bee breath is effective at relieving tension around the forehead. Specifically, it can reduce feelings of anger and frustration.
However, you will need to make a humming sound when you perform it.
- First, get in a comfortable seated position.
- Then, close your eyes and release any tension built up in your shoulders and face.
- Next, put your fingers along with your tragus cartilage. This is the ridge inside your ear that provides partial coverage of your canal.
- Once your fingers are on the tragus cartilage, inhale deeply.
- When you exhale through your nose, push down on your tragus cartilage.
- Simultaneously, you should keep your mouth closed and make a loud humming sound.
- Repeat for as long as you feel comfortable.
3. lion’s breath
The lion’s breath exercise might look a little silly, but it’s one of the more energizing breathing techniques. What’s more, it’s also great at reducing tension in both the face and chest. To begin, get in a seated position. It would help if you were either sitting back on your heels or crossing your legs.
Next, place your hands on your knees and spread out your fingers. Now, inhale through your nose while keeping your eyes open. While you do this, stick out your tongue and point it downward in the direction of your chin. As you exhale out your mouth, try and contract your front throat muscles.
You should make a long “HA” sound. Do this between two and three times. Also, try and turn your gaze toward the center of your nose while you do it.
4. pursed lip breathing
One great thing about pursed-lip breathing is that you can do it anytime and anywhere. This makes it ideal for people with lung diseases that make activities like lifting, bending, climbing, and walking more difficult.
As we mentioned before, stale air in the lungs is a major problem for these people. As such, pursed-lip breathing can help clear it out throughout the day. To start, you should first relax your shoulders. Then, slowly inhale for two whole seconds.
During this inhale, make sure your mouth is fully closed. After that, pucker your lips like you’re going to whistle. Then slowly, exhale out your lips for four whole seconds.
Your goal here is to slow down your breathing by applying an intentional effort to each breath you take. If you have a respiratory condition, then I recommend trying this one four to five times a day to learn it correctly.
5. diaprahagmatic breathing
Your diaphragm is one of your most crucial breathing muscles. As such, it helps to use exercises that strengthen it. That where diaphragmatic breathing comes into play. Like most other forms of breathing, it’s effective at relieving depression and anxiety.
However, diaphragmatic breathing is unique in that it can aid your heart health. One study shows that this type of breathing is useful in lowering both heart rate and blood pressure. On top of that, it also improves muscle stability and the ability to withstand intense exercise.
So, how do you do it? First, find somewhere to lie down. It would be best if you lay on your back with your head against a pillow and your legs slightly bent. If you want, then you can also place a pillow under your knee for additional support.
Now, place one hand on the upper part of your chest and the other hand below your rib cage. This allows you to become aware of how your diaphragm moves. Next, inhale through your nose until you feel your stomach begin pressing against your hand. Make sure to keep your other hand on your chest as still as possible.
Finally, exhale through pursed lips. While you do this, flex your stomach muscles and keep your upper hand as still as possible. Continue this for five to ten minutes. You can do it three or four times a day.
6. mindfulness breathing
This type of breathing is often associated with meditation since its focus is on being mindful and present. In this exercise, you find a comfortable place, sit or lie down, then listen to your breathing.
Pay attention to the air entering and leaving your lungs. Feel your heartbeat. Some people use guided imagery or repetitive prayer. If you’re interested in praying for someone else during this time, then visit my prayer wall. This exercise will naturally slow down your breathing.
This is one of the relaxation breathing techniques that’s more about letting thoughts pass by without judgment. Because of this, mindfulness breathing is often associated with stress reduction and sleep aids. If you want to learn more types of meditation exercises, then make sure to check out my other guide.
7. alternate nostril breathing
As its name suggests, alternate nostril breathing switches between your two nasal passages. This breathing technique offers balance to your body and bodily systems. Often times, one side will be more clear than the other side. This is completely normal and helps your body to return to equilibrium.
- First, sit in a comfortable position and allow your eyes to close.
- Relax your face and allow your shoulders to drop.
- Place your index finger and middle finger of your right hand between your eyebrows just above the bridge of your nose.
- Place your right thumb against your right nostril.
- Allow your ring finger and pinkie finger to rest on the left side of your nose.
- Naturally breathe in through your left nostril.
- Release your right thumb (unblocking your right nostril) while closing your left nostril with your fourth finger. When your left nostril is blocked, then you can breathe out through your right nostril.
- Then, breath in through your right nostril, switch fingers, and exhale through your left nostril.
8. ocean breathing
Ocean breath is commonly practiced in Yoga. It’s called ocean breathing because the breath is practiced in the back of the throat and which sounds like the ocean. Similar to when you put your ear up to sea shell and you can “hear the ocean”.
To practice this breath you will imagine that you are fogging up a pair of glasses with your breath. Instead of keeping your mouth open, you will keep your mouth closed. It’s a louder breath. When you’re in a yoga class, and everyone is practicing ocean breath, it’s clearly audible. This breath is not only intended to be used in a yoga class. This is a great stress reducing technique for every day life.
Ocean breath helps to focus on the breath and slow the breath. Elongated focused breathing calms the mind, body, and reduces stress.
9. Equal Breathing
Equal breathing focuses on balancing your inhalation and exhalation.
- Find a comfortable position
- breathe-in through your nose for a 3-count
- Breath-out through your nose for a 3-count
- Once this is comfortable, increase the breath to 4-count
- Once this is comfortable, increase the breath to a 5-count and so on
- The goal is to extend the breath while remaining relaxed
The inhale and the should be roughly the same length, around three to five seconds. If you want, you can also add a slight pause after each breath. Keep going for around five minutes, or for however long you want.
10. Box Breathing
As its name suggests, box breathing tries to make an equal square with inhale/hold/exhale/hold process. It’s been known to improve people’s concentration.
To box breathe:
- First inhale for four seconds
- The goals is to completely fill your lungs.
- Hold the air in for four seconds.
- Then exhale out of the mouth for four seconds.
- Once your lungs are empty, wait four seconds before repeating the exercise.
How to Incorporate Breathing Techniques Into Your Schedule
To receive the full benefits of breathing exercises, try to incorporate them into your daily routine. Find small snippets of time that you can easily take a few minutes to practice your breathing techniques like when you’re taking a shower, brushing your teeth, or going on a walk.
Suggested times to practice breathwork:
- First thing in the morning
- Taking a shower
- After brushing your teeth (minty fresh)
- Go on a walk (walk the dog)
- After a work out
- Before a meeting
- When you feel overworked & need a work break
- Before bed
- Instead of watching TV
When practicing, it’s helpful to choose a consistent time of day if you like routine. Ideally you want to spend 15 minutes practicing breathing but any amount of time is beneficial. Every little bit counts! Eventually it will become a lifestyle. It’s not about doing it once and you’re done. This practice is about returning to your breath as a life practice.
Want to Learn More About Breathwork and Meditation?
Now you’re familiar with the best breathing exercises. If you find that it’s difficult to concentrate on your breathing techniques, don’t be discouraged. It takes time to incorporate these habits into your life. Don’t worry about doing it wrong. Do what you can do and you’ll experience the benefits immediately. It gets better with time and practice.
Remember it’s hard until it’s easy. You may feel like nothing is happening in the beginning but stick with the practice and the benefits will become more apparent. Sometimes it’s only when you stop the practice that you notice a difference. It’s kind of like taking vitamins; you may not feel like super man or superwoman from taking them but if you miss your daily dose for few days, you notice that you’re tired or have stomach issues. Once you realize that you forgot to take your vitamins then you recognize the benefits they were providing.
It’s the same with breathwork. We recommend experimenting with yourself. Try a technique for a week and then stop. What differenes do you notice? this is all about you and your life so find what works for you.
If you enjoyed this guide, then you’re in the right place. La Vida Lorena offers plenty of applicable resources regarding breathwork and mediation. If you have any questions, then please don’t hesitate to contact me.