The ancient Greeks used pneuma to indicate both “breath” and “spirit” – and that’s not just a coincidence. The advice to “take a deep breath” when feeling stressed has help up for years because it’s been shown to reduce blood pressure and stabilize the sympathetic nervous system as you increase the oxygen in your system.
A number of current fitness options emphasize deep, regulated breathing along with physical movement, such as yoga, tai chi, and chi gung. Joining a fitness class isn’t necessary to reap the benefits of stress-relieving breathing, however. You can practice breathing exercise throughout daily life to invigorate your body and mind.
Here are a few tips to relieving stress through breathing techniques:
- Go deep – To maximize the benefits of relaxation breathing, be sure to use your diaphragm and breathe deeply. This can be done by envisioning that you’re sucking in air through a straw. Your stomach should push out as your lungs fill with air. If your shoulders are moving instead, then you’re breathing shallowly.
- Slow down – Silently count slowly (1-2-3-4) while breathing in, hold your breath for another four counts, exhale fully while silently counting again (1-2-3-4), and pause for another four counts before breathing again. Repeat this series for about a minute (five to six times), and then return your breathing to its normal rhythm. You should feel calmer and more peaceful right away
- Add value – While engaging in these breathing exercises, meditate on a strengthening word or phrase, like “peace” or “strength,” that contains a value or characteristic you would like to feel. Repeat this silently with each breath taken and released. As you breathe, focus the breath, envisioning it cleansing and releasing tension from head to toe. Continue for three minutes, and you should feel stronger and renewed.
You can take it a step further with the HeartMath Quick Coherence® Technique:
- Heart Focus - Focus your attention on the area around your heart, the area in the center of your chest (front and back). If you prefer, for the first couple of times you try it, place your hand over the center of your chest to help keep your attention in the heart area.
- Heart Breathing - Breathe deeply, but normally, and imagine that your breath is coming in and going out through your heart area. Continue breathing with ease until you find a natural inner rhythm that feels good to you.
- Heart Feeling - As you maintain your heart focus and heart breathing, activate a positive feeling. Recall a time when you felt good inside, and try to re-experience that feeling. One of the easiest ways to generate a positive, heart-based feeling is to remember a special place you’ve been to or the love you feel for a close friend or family member or treasured pet.
The HeartMath Quick Coherence technique is not just a breathing exercise - it creates heart-brain synchronization and has many powerful benefits, learn more (here).
“When you get into your car, after you close the door, pause for a few seconds and observe the flow of your breath. Become aware of a silent but powerful sense of presence." Eckhart Tolle
Following your breath is a powerful way to stay present and it can be very transformative, if practiced regularly. Anytime you are feeling stressed or having negative thoughts, you can simply follow your breathing. You can't pay attention to negative thoughts and your breath at the same time, therefore, the negative thoughts will dissolve. Breathe well and breathe happy!