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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 September 18, 2020

    7 Simple Rules to Live by to Get in Shape in Two Weeks

    7 Simple Rules to Live by to Get in Shape in Two Weeks

    Learning how to get in shape and set goals is important if you’re looking to live a healthier lifestyle and get closer to your goal weight. While this does require changes to your daily routine, you’ll find that you are able to look and feel better in only two weeks.

    Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to get in shape. Although anyone can cover the basics (eat right and exercise), there are some things that I could only learn through trial and error. Let’s cover some of the most important points for how to get in shape in two weeks.

    1. Exercise Daily

    It is far easier to make exercise a habit if it is a daily one. If you aren’t exercising at all, I recommend starting by exercising a half hour every day. When you only exercise a couple times per week, it is much easier to turn one day off into three days off, a week off, or a month off.

    If you are already used to exercising, switching to three or four times a week to fit your schedule may be preferable, but it is a lot harder to maintain a workout program you don’t do every day.

    Be careful to not repeat the same exercise routine each day. If you do an intense ab workout one day, try switching it up to general cardio the next. You can also squeeze in a day of light walking to break up the intensity.

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    If you’re a morning person, check out these morning exercises that will start your day off right.

    2. Duration Doesn’t Substitute for Intensity

    Once you get into the habit of regular exercise, where do you go if you still aren’t reaching your goals? Most people will solve the problem by exercising for longer periods of time, turning forty-minute workouts into two hour stretches. Not only does this drain your time, but it doesn’t work particularly well.

    One study shows that “exercising for a whole hour instead of a half does not provide any additional loss in either body weight or fat”[1].

    This is great news for both your schedule and your levels of motivation. You’ll likely find it much easier to exercise for 30 minutes a day instead of an hour. In those 30 minutes, do your best to up the intensity to your appropriate edge to get the most out of the time.

    3. Acknowledge Your Limits

    Many people get frustrated when they plateau in their weight loss or muscle gaining goals as they’re learning how to get in shape. Everyone has an equilibrium and genetic set point where their body wants to remain. This doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve your fitness goals, but don’t be too hard on yourself if you are struggling to lose weight or put on muscle.

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    Acknowledging a set point doesn’t mean giving up, but it does mean realizing the obstacles you face.

    Expect to hit a plateau in your own fitness results[2]. When you expect a plateau, you can manage around it so you can continue your progress at a more realistic rate. When expectations meet reality, you can avoid dietary crashes.

    4. Eat Healthy, Not Just Food That Looks Healthy

    Know what you eat. Don’t fuss over minutia like whether you’re getting enough Omega 3’s or tryptophan, but be aware of the big things. Look at the foods you eat regularly and figure out whether they are healthy or not. Don’t get fooled by the deceptively healthy snacks just pretending to be good for you.

    The basic nutritional advice includes:

    • Eat unprocessed foods
    • Eat more veggies
    • Use meat as a side dish, not a main course
    • Eat whole grains, not refined grains[3]

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    Eat whole grains when you want to learn how to get in shape.

      5. Watch Out for Travel

      Don’t let a four-day holiday interfere with your attempts when you’re learning how to get in shape. I don’t mean that you need to follow your diet and exercise plan without any excursion, but when you are in the first few weeks, still forming habits, be careful that a week long break doesn’t terminate your progress.

      This is also true of schedule changes that leave you suddenly busy or make it difficult to exercise. Have a backup plan so you can be consistent, at least for the first month when you are forming habits.

      If travel is on your schedule and can’t be avoided, make an exercise plan before you go[4], and make sure to pack exercise clothes and an exercise mat as motivation to keep you on track.

      6. Start Slow

      Ever start an exercise plan by running ten miles and then puking your guts out? Maybe you aren’t that extreme, but burnout is common early on when learning how to get in shape. You have a lifetime to be healthy, so don’t try to go from couch potato to athletic superstar in a week.

      If you are starting a running regime, for example, run less than you can to start. Starting strength training? Work with less weight than you could theoretically lift. Increasing intensity and pushing yourself can come later when your body becomes comfortable with regular exercise.

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      7. Be Careful When Choosing a Workout Partner

      Should you have a workout partner? That depends. Workout partners can help you stay motivated and make exercising more fun. But they can also stop you from reaching your goals.

      My suggestion would be to have a workout partner, but when you start to plateau (either in physical ability, weight loss/gain, or overall health) and you haven’t reached your goals, consider mixing things up a bit.

      If you plateau, you may need to make changes to continue improving. In this case it’s important to talk to your workout partner about the changes you want to make, and if they don’t seem motivated to continue, offer a thirty day break where you both try different activities.

      I notice that guys working out together tend to match strength after a brief adjustment phase. Even if both are trying to improve, something seems to stall improvement once they reach a certain point. I found that I was able to lift as much as 30-50% more after taking a short break from my regular workout partner.

      Final Thoughts

      Learning how to get in shape in as little as two weeks sounds daunting, but if you’re motivated and have the time and energy to devote to it, it’s certainly possible.

      Find an exercise routine that works for you, eat healthy, drink lots of water, and watch as the transformation begins.

      More Tips on Getting in Shape

      Featured photo credit: Alexander Redl via unsplash.com

      Reference

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