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Published on September 11, 2019

3 Deep Breathing Exercises to Relax and Reduce Stress

3 Deep Breathing Exercises to Relax and Reduce Stress

I practice breathing for 18 years and I put the question: Why is deep breathing good for you?

Deep breathing and normal breathing are worlds apart. While normal breathing happens autonomously and most of the time unconsciously, deep breathing must be forced to happen. How can you relax to reduce stress by forcing the breathing? In my seminars on breathing movements and strategies that cover philosophical and psychological aspects of breath, deep breathing is not forced but gently activated, in a way controlled.[1]

Gently activating breathing is crucial and effective element which you’ll experience in the breathing exercises that follow. But before we begin, let’s start with some facts and numbers about breathing, to better visualize the structure of the exercises and connect to deep breathing easier.

The adult’s normal breathing (tidal volume) is about ½ liter of air and that is only about 10% of the total lung capacity (TLC) which is some 5 ½ – 6 liters of air.[2] That means that, there is about ten times more volume in the lungs which can be activated through deep breathing.

The fact that we have the tenfold capacity of air in our lungs brings us to the idea and purpose of deep breathing. We apply deep breathing technique because we want to reach the vital capacity of the lungs. The vital capacity (VC) is the sum of the expiration reserve volume (ERC) + tidal volume (TV) + inspirational reserve volume (IRV) as shown on the picture below:

    Activating the vital capacity through deep breathing increases oxygen supply and creates more energy in the body. This is the beginning of the improvement of our overall health.

    That’s why deep breathing is good for you – it supplies oxygen throughout the total lung capacity (TLC) thus, strengthens the cardiovascular system and the nervous system among other bodily systems[3] but under one condition: make your progress go slowly and your deep breathing also slowly. The effect is physical and mental health.

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    Here let’s learn about the 3 deep breathing exercises that can help you feel better:

    1. Effortless Relaxation through Exhalation

    You can do this first deep breathing exercises wherever you are sitting steadily and comfortably. Even if you feel distressed, it’s fine, you will get stabilized as you perform the exercise. The timing of the tidal volume (TV) of half a liter of air would be about 1.5 to 2 seconds for performing the inhalation and about the same for the exhalation.

    Now we will extend the exhalation to 6 seconds, using the tidal volume + expiratory reserve volume:

    1. Make sure your spine is straight and your chest open so you can breathe freely. Place your palms on your thighs.
    2. Feel whatever energy or tension is flowing through your body.
    3. Effortlessly exhale counting to 6 focusing on the airflow leaving your chest.
    4. Effortlessly inhale counting to 4.
    5. Gently activate your breath extending the exhalation (without forcing the breath) counting to 6. This time your inhalation will go a bit deeper and faster, and that’s fine.
    6. Inhale effortlessly counting to 4 (doesn’t matter if the airflow is a bit faster)
    7. Exhale effortlessly counting to 6 and feel all tension leaving your body. While exhaling effortlessly, feel the relaxation flowing out of your chest through your hands spreading through your whole body.
    8. Inhale effortlessly counting to 4.
    9. Exhale and feel the relaxation spreading throughout your head and to your whole body.

    Quick Results through Attention to Exhalation

    Did you know that stress negatively influences attention performance?[4]

    Paying close attention to deep exhalation is the recipe for relaxation. While performing this exercise, there are no stressors that can agitate your nervous system or aggravate you, because your attention is focused on your exhalation. With this breathing exercise, you reduce your breathing frequency from the normal approximate 20 breaths per minute down to 6 breaths per minute.

    This way you exhale the air from the lower part of the lungs which normally isn’t recirculated. The substantial reduction of breaths results in calming of the nervous system and delivers the following benefits:

    • Reduces energy loss
    • Reduces stress in the body by lowering the stress hormone cortisol
    • Lowers heart rate
    • Lowers blood pressure
    • Increases blood’s oxygen level
    • Cleanses the blood of carbon dioxide and other harmful gases

    Do this deep breathing exercise at least three times a day for five minutes! I will give a few more tips for the optimal workout of all three deep breathing exercises at the end of the article.

    2. Energy through Inhalation

    Let’s move forward to the next deep breathing exercise. In this significant exercise, we’ll focus on a very valuable moment – building up energy through inhalation. The energy is a crucial physiological value for the development of anything. This exercise must be performed on empty stomach. Get ready, stand up on your feet and:

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    1. Make sure your spine is straight and your chest open so you can breathe freely.
    2. Effortlessly exhale feeling the relaxation in the body.
    3. Effortlessly inhale so your stomach expands (count to 4) and continue gently.
    4. Gently activate your inhalation counting (4-8) so your chest slowly open. This inhalation should be about 60-70% of your total inspiratory capacity.
    5. Effortlessly exhale focusing on the energy that has built up through the inhalation.
    6. Repeat step 4, gently inhaling extending to 80-90% of your total inspiratory capacity counting to 10 opening the chest more this time.
    7. Effortlessly exhale letting all your created energy flow into your fists.
    8. Gently inhale activating 100% of your total inspiratory capacity counting to 12 (or more if your capacity allows you) opening the chest maximally. Feel the energy, the strength that has built up within your body. Feel your vitality.

    Once you’ve reached step 8, repeat this deep breathing movement (on empty stomach) for only (and slowly, in order to prevent hyperventilation) five minutes at the beginning. Create your own rhythm (speed and depth) of breathing. Your energy and vitality will significantly improve.

    Feeling Vitalized While Breathing

    There are two kinds of deep breathing: slow and fast. I put slow first because it cannot hurt you, it’s safe, soothing and peaceful. It is of meditative nature: subtle, profound and insightful. The fast breathing is of aerobic nature: invigorating, reviving and energetic.

    This doesn’t mean that you cannot experience characteristics from the fast breathing when breathing slow or the other way around. When you advance with the deep breathing exercises, you’ll be able to experience all physical and mental energies.

    Some of them (like creativity or patience for example) will appear not as intense as others, but through constantly practicing this breathing, you will feel their intensity increase. The two main benefits of deep breathing are:

    • Peacefulness = Joy
    • Energy = Vitality

    All other benefits come out of these two. To be insightful and intuitive, you must be patient and observant; and patience and observance develop through peacefulness. To be resilient and versatile, you must be strong and flexible; and strength and flexibility develop through vitality.

    Another great benefit from this deep breathing exercise is that it’s a valuable tool to deal with depression and overcome anxiety in case you experience moments of depressive state of mind. These tools for which I write extensively in my book About the Power of Breath, deliver a systematic mental approach with effective results.

    3. Relaxation through Exhalation + Energy through Inhalation

    The third deep breathing exercise is about experimenting, experiencing and becoming the expert of your breathing.

    Combine the first breathing exercise with the second one and create rhythm of breathing that will harmonize your relaxation and vitality. This time, don’t count but just connect 100% with the flow of your breath:

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    1. Exhale effortlessly, gently activating your expiratory reserve volume (ERV) and expelling all the air out of your lungs. Go very slow without any pressure, thus create relaxation. This movement turns instantly into peacefulness.
    2. Inhale effortlessly, gently activating your inspiratory reserve volume (IRV) filling it gradually from 60-70% up to 100% with air. Inhaling very slow, light pressure will build up automatically as you fill the lungs with air – but this pressure is pure energy.

    Balanced combination of this deep breathing is how you reduce stress, relax and energize your body and mind. Advancing with this breathing technique, you start to develop all mental skills you want to achieve. And in the meantime:

    • If you feel too stressed and want to reduce your stress, just apply the first deep exhalation exercise in order to calm down and relax.
    • If you feel down and powerless, apply the second inhalation exercise in order to regain your energy and vitalize your whole body.
    • If you feel just fine, then apply the third deep breathing exercise which will have the effect of the first two exercises and also prepare you to work on and develop your physiological and mental qualities.

    Which is the Best Breathing Exercise?

    Is there such a thing as the best breathing exercise?

    If I tell you that the best breathing exercise is the “4-7-8 Breathing Technique,” would you agree? Many people think of it as the best breathing exercise for sleep: inhale counting to 4, retain the breath counting to 7 and exhale counting to 8.

    And indeed this breathing pattern calms so much to the point of falling asleep pretty quickly. That’s a great benefit but, in our case here, we don’t want to merely fall asleep with a deep breathing exercise – we want to learn how to relax, build up energy and reduce stress in the midst of our dynamic daily life.

    Although the question for the best breathing exercise is too general and relative, I am happy to tell you that we have the right answer here:

    The best breathing exercise is the one that suits you the best according to your present state of being. So I encourage you to experiment with the deep breathing techniques above and find the best rhythm for you.

    Final Thoughts

    You’re probably wondering (as my students and clients do): How long and how often this deep breathing has to be practiced in order to be effective?

    Physiologically, the effect is immediate, you can feel the relaxation in your body instantly after the first effortless deep exhalation.

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    Mentally, it is impossible to give the right answer as it depends on your present mental outlook. For each one of us, the effect and result would be different. The truth is, the more you repeat the deep breathing, the more mental energies you will identify and less sensitive you’ll be to stress.

    Tip:

    If you’re a beginner, develop a rhythm and alternatively, create a routine by doing the exercises in the morning right after waking up, before lunch and before going to sleep, each one for five minutes (15 minutes all together). Once you have adapted to this rhythm, you can double the repetition and also the timing (making it 30 minutes 6 times a day). Just do it everywhere and any time.

    Do this for a month and you’ll be amazed by the improvement of your energy and your confidence .

    Personally, I do it literally all the time. My deep breathing has become my normal breathing.

    Breathing – the ultimate life force, bestows you with health, beauty and joy. Breathe deeply, consciously and lovingly and, you’ll get the rhythm of peacefulness and vitality which will eliminate stress entirely. I salute the spirit in you!

    More About Reducing Stress

    Featured photo credit: Amandine Lerbscher via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Harvard Medical School: Relaxation techniques – breath control
    [2] Science Direct: Lung Capacity
    [3] Harvard Medical School: Interval Training
    [4] Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience: The influence of acute stress on attention mechanisms and its electrophysiological correlates

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    Marcin Gil

    Marcin is a spiritual being just like anyone challenging to uncover what we already have โ€“ spiritual freedom.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

    The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

    Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

    your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have

      Why You Need a Vision

      Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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      How to Create Your Life Vision

      Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

      What Do You Want?

      The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

      It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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      Some tips to guide you:

      • Remember to ask why you want certain things
      • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
      • Give yourself permission to dream.
      • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
      • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

      Some questions to start your exploration:

      • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
      • What would you like to have more of in your life?
      • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
      • What are your secret passions and dreams?
      • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
      • What do you want your relationships to be like?
      • What qualities would you like to develop?
      • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
      • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
      • What would you most like to accomplish?
      • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

      It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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      What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

      Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

      A few prompts to get you started:

      • What will you have accomplished already?
      • How will you feel about yourself?
      • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
      • What does your ideal day look like?
      • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
      • What would you be doing?
      • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
      • How are you dressed?
      • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
      • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
      • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

      It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next stepGive yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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      Plan Backwards

      It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

      • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
      • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
      • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
      • What important actions would you have had to take?
      • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
      • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
      • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
      • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
      • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

      Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

      It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

      Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

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