3 Deep Breathing Exercises to Relax and Reduce Stress

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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.

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]

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