The best deep breathing exercises to relax

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Kevin Mangelschots

Oxidation is of vital importance for simply living, but also for staying alive longer and remaining healthy.

That’s why I compiled this list of the best deep breathing techniques to relax.

Diaphragmatic breathing is the natural way of breathing. But when stressed out or through bad habits, our natural way of breathing may get disturbed and out of balance.

The good thing is that abdominal breathing can be learned, and that it is beneficial for everyone to do so.

What is deep breathing: Easy breathing exercise for novices

Illustration of a woman performing deep breathing exercises when lying down on her back on the ground.

Deep breathing is the same as practicing diaphragmatic breathing. It is easy, feels natural and has multiple benefits. That’s why it’s worth it to learn how to breathe through your belly.

This is how you do it:

  1. Lie down or sit in a comfy position.
  2. Put one hand on your belly and the other hand on your chest.
  3. Take a deep breath through your nose. This means that your belly should expand and push the hand resting on your stomach out. The hand on your chest should not notice any movement, as the chest should remain still.
  4. Slowly breathe out through your nose or mouth. Your belly should retract again. Make sure to push all the air out in order not to breathe shallowly.
  5. Practice deep abdominal breathing multiple times. Remember to take your time with each breath, don’t rush. The more repetitions you do, the better you’ll perform.

Advanced deep breathing exercises

Image of a woman meditating outside while looking at the sunrise.

Once one has mastered abdominal breathing, it’s on to the more advanced exercises.

Practice 4/7/8 breathing

One of the advanced belly breathing exercises with the aim to aid you to relax. It is possible to practice this exercise lying down or sitting up. Although I would recommend lying down because it’s easier to relax for most people this way.

  1. Start in the basic deep breathing position. This means putting one hand on the belly and the other hand on the chest in order to track diaphragm movement.
  2. Take a deep breath and count to 4 in your head while you breathe in.
  3. Now hold your breath and count from number one to seven silently.
  4. Breathe out while counting from number 1 to 8. Again, like always, try to expel all the air from your lungs.
  5. Repeat for the desired amount of times. Although, I recommend doing at least 3 repetitions.

Morning breathing

The dawn happening in a forest.

The name morning breathing comes from the fact that it’s an ideal exercise to do in the morning when you’ve just waken up.

It is perfect to clear clogged breathing passages or/and to relieve muscle stiffness. Of course, it can also be used during the day to relax and to relieve stress and anxiety.

  1. This exercise will be performed standing up. From a standing position, bend your waist forward with your knees slightly bent. Let your arms relax and hang to the floor.
  2. While inhaling slowly and deeply, return to a standing position by standing up slowly. Lift at the waist first and finally, the head.
  3. Hold your breath for a couple of seconds while in the standing position.
  4. Exhale slowly and return to the bent position by bending the waist forward again.
  5. Repeat for as many times as desired. More stress requires more repetitions.

Equal breathing

Black equals sign on a white background

Equal breathing is a breathing practice that focuses on the same length of inhaling and exhaling air. This steadiness of breath helps to bring balance and relaxation.

The aim is to find a breath length that is not too hard, but also not too easy to maintain. Make sure you’re not breathing too fast in order to be able to maintain it during the whole exercise. For most people, this will between the three and five counts.

It can be used during your yoga exercises or simply while doing daily activities.

  1. You can practice technique while lying down or while sitting. Choose your most preferred position.
  2. Breathe in through your nose and count.
  3. Breathe out through your nose and count again. Make sure you’re inhaling and exhaling at an equal duration.
  4. Try to add a slight breath retention/pause after each inhale. Normal/natural breathing also has a slight pause after each inhale.
  5. Practice for a couple of minutes.

Roll breathing

Image of a young woman lying in a couch doing nothing.

Roll breathing is a tool to develop the full usage of your lungs by focusing on the rhythm of breathing. Again, it is recommended to start off by doing this exercise lying down, but sitting will also suffice.

  1. Lie down or sit in a comfy position.
  2. Put your left hand on your belly and the other hand on your chest.
  3. Take a deep breath through your nose. This means that your stomach should push your left hand out. This means you’re filling your lower lungs. The hand on your chest should not notice any movement, as the chest should stay still.
  4. When you have done the previous steps a couple of times, it is time to add the second part of the exercise. Inhale through your lower lungs by extending your belly, and then continue to breathe in through your upper chest. Remember to breathe slowly and regularly. This means that the hand on your chest will also move due to your chest expanding.
  5. Exhale slowly through your mouth. Make a quiet whooshing sound and let the hand on the belly fall first and then the right one due to contracting the abdominal muscles first and then the chest.
  6. Practice this exercise for a couple of minutes. Depending on the tension, more repetitions of the exercise are required.

Image of the words, “deep breathing”, written in the sand of a beach.

Alternate nostril breathing

Alternate nostril breathing is a breathing technique that’s used for relaxation.

It has been shown in multiple studies that alternate nostril breathing enhances cardiovascular health and lowers the heart rate.

A note of warning, though. I would avoid practicing alternate nostril breathing when you’re congested or feeling sick. Try to keep your breath slow and deliberate during the whole exercise.

  1. Sit down in a comfortable position.
  2. Lift your left hand towards your nose and press your thumb against your left nostril in order to close it off.
  3. Inhale deeply and slowly through your right nostril.
  4. Use your index finger and ring finger to close your right nostril. Exhale slowly through your left nostril.
  5. Switch and breath in through your left nostril.
  6. Close off your left nostril and breathe out through your right nostril.
  7. This concludes one cycle of alternating breathing. Practice for how many times as you want.

Pursed lip Breathing

Cropped shot of a woman's pursed lips.

The following abdominal breathing technique has the specific function to slow down the pace of your breathing. It works by applying a conscious effort with each breath you take.

Pursed lip breathing can be practiced at any time of the day. It is especially useful when stressed.

In order to learn the technique, which is sometimes also used in other breathing techniques, it is recommended to practice multiple times a day for a prolonged period of time in order to get the technique right.

  1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
  2. Aim to relax the neck and shoulders along with the rest of your body.
  3. Inhale slowly through your nose while keeping your mouth closed.
  4. Purse or pucker your lips like you would do when you are going to whistle.
  5. Slowly exhale by blowing the inhaled air through your puckered lips.
  6. Repeat for as many times as desired.

Progressive muscle relaxation

A woman practicing yoga.

Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that combines breathing in with simultaneously tensing a muscle group and releasing that tensed muscle group when you breathe out.

Progressive muscle relaxation helps you to relax physically, which will have positive effects on your mental state as well.

  1. Lie down or sit in a comfortable position.
  2. Take a few deep breaths in order to relax before starting.
  3. Breathe in and tense the muscles of your face.
  4. Breathe out and relax the muscles of your face.
  5. Breathe in and tense the muscles of your neck.
  6. Breathe out and relax the muscles of your neck.
  7. Continue working your way down your body. Tense each single muscle group and relax that same muscle group afterwards.

Breath focus technique

This deep breathing technique uses focus words, phrases and/or imagery.

It works by choosing a phrase, imagery, or words that make you feel relaxed and good. Examples of those words can be “relaxing”, “vacation” or thinking about loved ones. Anything that makes you feel good and relaxed can work.

You can start with a short session and gradually build up towards longer sessions.

  1. Lie down or sit in a relaxed, comfortable position.
  2. Aim to relax the whole body.
  3. Focus on your breathing without changing or trying to change how you’re breathing.
  4. Try to alternate between normal and deep breaths for a few times. Try noticing the difference between the more shallow breathing and the deep breathing. Notice how your belly expands when practicing deep breathing.
  5. Practice abdominal breathing for a few minutes.
  6. Place your left hand on your belly and the right one on your chest. Notice how your left one moves outwards when practicing abdominal breathing, while the chest doesn’t move.
  7. Sigh loudly with each exhale.
  8. Begin focusing your breath by combining your deep breathing practice with a focus word, phrase, or imagery that will help to bring you relaxation.
  9. For example, imagine that a vacation with a nice scenery will bring you relaxation and happy smiles.
  10. While doing the deep breaths and imagining the vacation, you can say to yourself, “Exhale stress and inhale relaxation.”

Lion’s breathing

A lion who's roaring.

Lion’s breathing is a vitalizing breathing practice originating from yoga that serves to release stress and tension in the face and chest.

In yoga, it is known as the lion’s pose.

This is how to do it:

  1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable, relaxed position. If you want to, you can sit back with on your knees or with crossed legs.
  2. Press the palms of your hands against your knees with your fingers spread apart.
  3. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose and open your eyes wide.
  4. At the same time as breathing in deeply, open your mouth wide and stick your tongue out. Aim to bring the tip of your tongue down towards your chin.
  5. Contract the muscles at the front of the throat as you exhale out through your mouth while making a long “ha” sound.
  6. Try turning your gaze at the tip of your nose.
  7. Repeat this way of breathing for as many times as desired.

Picture of a post-it note saying, “Take a deep breath.”

Coherent breathing or resonant breathing

Coherent breathing, also commonly called resonant breathing, is achieved when breathing at a rate of 5 full breaths per minute. This means inhaling and exhaling 5 times combined. One can achieve this rate by inhaling and counting to five and exhaling for a count of five.

  1. Inhale slowly and count to five.
  2. Exhale slowly and count to five again.
  3. Repeat this cycle for as many times as necessary. Preferable, for a few minutes.

Sitali breathing

Sitali breathing is a yoga breathing technique that specializes in relaxing the mind and lowering the body temperature

Sitali breathing is practiced by inhaling through the mouth. Since this is the case, try to practice it in a place that’s free of allergens.

  1. Lie or sit down in a comfortable position.
  2. Stick out your tongue and curl it in order to bring the outer edges together.
  3. If you find it hard to bring the other edges together, then it can be useful to purse the lips.
  4. Inhale through the mouth.
  5. Exhale through the nose.
  6. Continue this breathing practice for a couple of minutes.

Humming bee breath

A bee sitting on a flower.

This yoga technique gives a unique sensation to the body. This unique sensation has an instantly calming effect.

It can be used to reduce anxiety, mental stress, but also to relieve anger and frustration.

It should be noted though that it is best to practice it in a place and time when it’s appropriate to make the humming sound that’s required to practice this technique.

  1. Lie down or sit down in a comfortable position.
  2. Close both eyes and aim to relax the muscles in the face.
  3. Make a loud and constant humming sound, aim the sound towards the mouth/front of the face.
  4. Keep making the humming sound until you’re almost out of breath.
  5. Repeat for a couple of minutes.

Conclusion

Image of a hand holding a card with the word “conclusions” written in blue.

Breathing through the diaphragm is important to live a long and healthy life, along with a multitude of other deep breathing advantages such as reducing chronic stress.

Practicing these techniques just a couple of minutes each day, and particularly when stressed, will greatly reduce mental fatigue and will help you to stay grounded.