Advertising
Advertising

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.

    Advertising

    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:

    Advertising

    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:

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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

    More by this author

    Marcin Gil

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

    7 Beginner Yoga Exercises for Men to Increase Mobility 3 Deep Breathing Exercises to Relax and Reduce Stress

    Trending in Health

    1 27 Healthy Pressure Cooker Meals (with Easy Recipes) 2 10 Ways a Silent Retreat Improves Your Mental Health 3 What’s the Best Tea for Sleep? 7 Recipes to Try Tonight 4 The Best Foods to Eat and Avoid When You Have Diarrhea 5 25 Quick and Healthy Lunch Ideas for Work

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on November 15, 2019

    10 Real Reasons Why Breaking Bad Habits Is So Difficult

    10 Real Reasons Why Breaking Bad Habits Is So Difficult

    Bad habits expose us to suffering that is entirely avoidable. Unfortunately, these bad habits are difficult to break because they are 100% dependent on our mental and emotional state.

    Anything we do that can prove harmful to us is a bad habit – drinking, drugs, smoking, procrastination, poor communication are all examples of bad habits. These habits have negative effects on our physical, mental and emotional health.

    Humans are hardwired to respond to stimuli and to expect a consequence of any action. This is how habits are acquired: the brain expects to be rewarded a certain way under certain circumstances. How you initially responded to certain stimuli is how your brain will always remind you to behave when the same stimuli are experienced.

    If you visited the bar close to your office with colleagues every Friday, your brain will learn to send you a signal to stop there even when you are alone and eventually not just on Fridays. It will expect the reward of a drink after work every day, which can potentially lead to a drinking problem.

    Kicking negative behavior patterns and steering clear of them requires a lot of willpower and there are many reasons why breaking bad habits is so difficult.

    1. Lack of Awareness or Acceptance

    Breaking a bad habit is not possible if the person who has it is not aware that it is a bad one.

    Many people will not realize that their communication skills are poor or that their procrastination is affecting them negatively, or even that the drink they had as a nightcap has now increased to three.

    Awareness brings acceptance. Unless a person realizes on their own that a habit is bad, or someone manages to convince them of the same, there is very little chance of the habit being kicked.

    2. No Motivation

    Going through a divorce, not being able to cope with academics and falling into debt are instances that can bring a profound sense of failure with them. A person going through these times can fall into a cycle of negative thinking where the world is against them and nothing they can do will ever help, so they stop trying altogether.

    Advertising

    This give-up attitude is a bad habit that just keeps coming around. Being in debt could make you feel like you are failing at maintaining your home, family and life in general.

    If you are looking to get out of a rut and feel motivated, take a look at this article: Why Is Internal Motivation So Powerful (And How to Find It)

    3. Underlying Psychological Conditions

    Psychological conditions such as depression and ADD can make it difficult to break bad habits.

    A depressed person may find it difficult to summon the energy to cook a healthy meal, resulting in food being ordered in or consumption of packaged foods. This could lead to eventually become a habit that adversely affects health and is difficult to overcome.

    A person with ADD may start to clean their house but get distracted soon after, leaving the task incomplete, eventually leading to a state where it is acceptable to live in a house that is untidy and dirty.

    The fear of missing out (FOMO) is very real to some people. Obsessively checking their social media and news sources, they may believe that not knowing of something as soon as it is published can be catastrophic to their social standing.

    4. Bad Habits Make Us Feel Good

    One of the reasons it is difficult to break habits is that a lot of them make us feel good.[1]

    We’ve all been there – the craving for a tub of ice cream after a breakup or a casual drag on a joint, never to be repeated until we miss how good it made us feel. We succumb to the craving for the pleasure felt while indulging in it, cementing it as a habit even while we are aware it isn’t good for us.

    Over-eating is a very common bad habit. Just another pack of crisps, a couple of candies, a large soda… none of these are needed by us. We want them because they give us comfort. They’re familiar, they taste good and we don’t even notice when we progress from just one extra slice of pizza to four.

    Advertising

    You can read this article to learn more: We Do What We Know Is Bad for Us, Why?

    5. Upward Comparisons

    Comparisons are a bad habit that many of us have been exposed to since we were children. Parents might have compared us to siblings, teachers may have compared us to classmates, and bosses could compare us to past and present employees.

    The people who have developed the bad habit of comparing themselves to others have been given incorrect yardsticks for measurement from the start.

    These people will always find it difficult to break out of this bad habit because there will always be someone who has it better than they do: a better house, better car, better job, higher income and so on.

    6. No Alternative

    This is a real and valid reason why bad habits are hard to break. These habits could fulfill a need that may not be met any other way.

    Someone who has physical or psychological limitations such as a disability or social anxiety may find it hard to quit obsessive content consumption for better habits.

    Alternately, a perfectly healthy person may be unable to quit smoking because alternates are just not working out.

    Similarly, a person who bites their nails when anxious may be unable to relieve stress in any other socially accepted manner.

    7. Stress

    As mentioned above, anything that stresses us out can lead to adopting and cementing bad habits.

    Advertising

    When a person is stressed about something, it is easy to give in to a bad habit because the mental resources required to fight them are not available.

    Stress plays such a huge role in this that we commonly find a person who had previously managed to kick a bad habit fall back into the old ways because they felt their stress couldn’t be managed any other way.

    8. Sense of Failure

    People looking to kick bad habits may feel a strong sense of failure because it’s just that difficult.

    Dropping a bad habit usually means changes in lifestyle that people may be unwilling to make, or these changes might not be easy to make in spite of the will to make them.

    Over-eaters need to empty their house of unhealthy food, resist the urge to order in and not pick up their standard grocery items from the store.

    Those who drink too much need to avoid the bars or even people who drink often.

    If such people slip even once with a glass of wine or a smoke or a bag of chips, they tend to be excessively harsh on themselves and feel like failures.

    9. The Need to Be All-New

    People who are looking to break bad habits feel they need to re-create themselves in order to break themselves of their bad habits, while the truth is the complete opposite.

    These people actually need to go back to who they were before they developed the bad habit.

    Advertising

    10. Force of Habit

    Humans are creatures of habit and having familiar, comforting outcomes for daily triggers helps us maintain a sense of balance in our lives.

    Consider people who are used to lighting up a cigarette every time they talk on the phone or munching on crisps when watching TV. They will always associate a phone call with a puff on the cigarette and screen time with eating.

    These habits, though bad, are a source of comfort to them as is meeting with those people they indulge in these bad habits with.

    Final Thoughts

    These are the main reasons why bad habits may be difficult to break but it is important to remember that the task is not impossible.

    Do you have bad habits you want to kick? My article How to Break a Bad Habit (and Replace It With a Good One) gives you tips on well, how to kick bad habits while my other article How Long Does It Take to Break a Habit? Science Will Tell You gives realistic information on what to expect while you’re trying to quit them.

    There are many compassionate, positive and self-loving techniques to kick bad habits. The internet is rich in information regarding bad habits, their effects and how to overcome them, while professional help is always available for those who feel they need it.

    Featured photo credit: NORTHFOLK via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] After Skool: Why Do Bad Habits Feel SO GOOD?

    Read Next