But there’s an art form out there that not only helps to reduce anxiety. It’s also the antidote for panic attacks when they happen.
In this article, we’ll go over seven breathing exercises in detail so that you could start breathing away stress and anxiety, and start calming the f*ck down.
Now, you might say, “I could think of better shit to do than silly breathing exercises.”
To which I’ll reply: “Don’t be silly. Breathing exercises are the bee’s knees.”
Believe it or not, practicing the breathing techniques in this article can have a long-lasting, positive impact on your mental health and well-being.
After all, medical reports have shown that deep breathing exercises can slow down your heart rate, improve your circulation and digestion, give your immune system a healthy boost, and help you catch more of those elusive ZZZs.
So without further ado, below are seven breathing exercises to calm you the f*ck down. I love them because they calm me the f*ck down. They’re amazing because, in this post-pandemic world, we could all just calm the f*ck down.
(You down? Let’s go!)
7 BREATHING EXERCISES AT A GLANCE
- Diaphragmatic Breathing
- Alternate-Nostril Breathing
- Breath of Fire
- 4-7-8 Breathing
- Box Breathing (or “The Square Breath”)
- Spinal Twist With Breathwork
- Om Chant
#1. DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING
Diaphragmatic breathing, or “belly breathing,” is one of the most common breathing exercises that can fill your lungs and blow away stress in a jiffy.
I’ll go over how to do it in just a moment. Before you get your breathing groove on, it’s important to understand what each breathing exercise can do to improve your mental health and wellness.
It’s also important to prepare yourself mentally and physically to ensure that you’re doing these breathing techniques correctly.
While practicing diaphragmatic breathing, work on engaging your stomach and abdominal muscles as you draw in air. This will allow for deeper inhalations that are more beneficial than taking shallow breathes because deep breathing can help with lung-capacity problems, asthma, and panic attacks (woohoo!)
The diaphragm should be pulled downward on each inward breath. Don’t worry if you have no idea how to pull this off: This isn’t riddle-of-the-sphinx territory, and certainly not as confusing as “folding in the cheese” as David and Moira Rose taught us in “Schitt’s Creek.”
When taking deep, deliberate breaths, your diaphragm will expand and contract naturally. This makes it easier on your lungs and other organs like your kidneys (remember them?) from being overworked.
Relieve your internal body parts of unnecessary pressure by taking one big breath instead of multiple, smaller ones per minute.
HOW TO PRACTICE DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING:
- Sit in a comfortable position.
- Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
- Breathe deeply through your nose, filling up your lungs.
- Hold the breath for 3 seconds, then exhale through pursed lips or by pushing out with the stomach muscles.
- Repeat this process at least 5 times to calm down and reduce your stress levels.
- Practice deep breathing when you’re feeling anxious or stressed out to get back to a relaxed state of mind.
#2. ALTERNATE-NOSTRIL BREATHING
Alternate-nostril breathing is exactly what it sounds like: The focused practice of alternating your breath one nostril at a time.
If you have a deviated septum (like your truly), you’ll find out the hard way that breathing through one nostril is much easier than breathing through the other one. Although this may discourage you, I’m going to challenge you to push through and inhale through that clogged nostril of yours, even if at times it feels like you’re out of breath.
Don’t worry — once you start breathing from the unclogged nostril, you’ll be rewarded for your hard work. But if it still feels like too much of a challenge, try alternating nostrils in a 2:1 ratio. For instance, complete two breathing cycles through the unclogged nostril and one breathing cycle through the clogged one. (Still too hard? Pick any of the other six breathing exercises on this list!)
This mind-blowing technique can help bring better balance to your nervous system and has the potential to trigger fewer stressful responses over time.
Deep inhales paired with alternate nostrils have also been found to lower blood pressure while slowing your heart rate. This is an especially helpful combination for those who live in high-altitude environments or suffer from migraines as a result of low oxygen levels.
HOW TO PRACTICE ALTERNATE-NOSTRIL BREATHING:
- Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Close off one nostril with a finger or thumb.
- Inhale deeply into the other (open) nostril for three seconds.
- Hold your breath for five seconds.
- Exhale slowly from that same nostril, forcing air to come out on that side.
- Repeat steps 2-5 on the opposite nostril (i.e., close off one nostril with a finger or thumb and inhale deeply into the other.)
#3. BREATH OF FIRE BREATHING
The term “Breath of Fire” conjures an image of Daenerys Targaryen from the HBO series, “Game of Thrones,” riding her pet dragon, Drogon, over Westerosi battlefields, literally breathing fire over her sworn enemies and burning them to a crisp.
But calm down, Khaleesi. This ain’t that kind of breathing exercise.
From the ancient yoga breathing practice called pranayama, Breath of Fire is a technique that provides stress relief while improving respiratory health. This breathing exercise can also improve your concentration levels and mindfulness in the present moment — all benefits worth pursuing in a post-pandemic world!
Breath of Fire involves passive inhales and active exhales that are quick, yet powerful. You inhale passively and exhale forcefully, keeping a rapid pace as you go. If you notice someone in repose with their eyes closed and legs crossed, and it appears that they’re hyperventilating, then there’s a good chance that this person is practicing the Breath of Fire technique.
The idea is that this style of forced exhalation stimulates your senses, boosts your brain functions, and vastly improves your respiratory health. The exhale is what matters most in this technique because it requires contracting your abdominal muscles. In turn, this can help strengthen them.
Your exhalation needs to be a similar length as your inhalation so that there’s no downtime in between breaths. Take long enough draws for deep breathing but not too long or else they will become ineffective. (Need a visual? Check out this Breath of Fire tutorial from “Yoga With Adrienne.”)
HOW TO PRACTICE BREATH OF FIRE BREATHING:
- Sit cross-legged with your back straight, head up, and shoulders back.
- Rest your hands gently on your knees with your palms facing upward or downward. (Or feel free to place a hand on your belly and feel it expand and contract as you take deep breaths.)
- Inhale through your nose and without pausing, exhale forcefully through your nose while contracting your abdominal muscles. Maintain a fast yet controlled pace as you continue with this breathing exercise.
- Keep your inhales and exhales equal in length. When you find a steady, fast-paced rhythm (think of a panting dog after a trip to the dog run), repeat in cycles.
- Continue the rhythm, inhaling passively and exhaling forcefully. You can close your eyes and use a visualization technique to keep you anchored during this practice.
- Now, accelerate your inhales and exhales even more. Your exhales should be particularly powerful and bold.
- Repeat for five to ten minutes.
#4. 4-7-8 BREATHING
Let’s return to yoga for a hot minute.
The 4-7-8 breathing technique is another oldie but goodie in the ancient practices of yoga and mindful meditation that can promote some much-needed relaxation.
As its name suggests, there’s a 4-, 7-, and 8-count approach to completing one round of this breathing exercise. To successfully get through one round, take a deep breath for four seconds, hold it for seven, and then exhale slowly over eight seconds.
As you do this, focus on the sensation that results from filling up your lungs with oxygen and letting go of stress while observing where tension resides in your body. When you find that tension, give it the middle finger or lead it to the back door of your mind, giving it a kick in the butt as it leaves.
Sidenote: This breathing exercise can also help with sleeping problems by calming your overactive mind at bedtime! For other techniques to improve your quality of sleep, check out the Sleep Collection in the QWERTYdelight Archives.
HOW TO PRACTICE 4-7-8 BREATHING:
- When you’re feeling stressed, take a moment to unwind and remove yourself from distracting environments.
- Sit or lie down and close your eyes. Breathe in deeply through your nose for four seconds.
- Hold your breath for seven seconds, letting thoughts come and go as they enter your mind.
- Exhale slowly over eight seconds and through thinly-parted lips, pushing air out with your abdominals towards the end.
- If you’d like to switch things up, blow out air forcefully through closed lips, allowing them to vibrate on each exhale.
- Repeat this process ten or so times and notice how refreshed you feel after just a few minutes of practice.
#5. BOX BREATHING (OR “THE SQUARE BREATH”)
When your heart starts racing out of control because you’re stressed the f*ck out (breathless even), box breathing can make you feel better pronto and stay calm under pressure.
Box breathing is also known as “4-square” breathing. It’s all about taking control of how much air goes into your body by making sure you’re properly controlling it.
To do it, exhale to the count of four and hold for another four counts before inhaling again at the same pace as you did on your last exhalation. This pattern can be repeated over and over until relief from stress sets in or whatever situation causing your anxiety has passed.
Practice box breathing whenever you need to calm down or think clearly, like before an exam or a big meeting at work. Practicing it regularly will help you shift into this technique naturally, whenever you need it most.
HOW TO PRACTICE BOX BREATHING:
- Breathe in deeply for a count of 4.
- Hold your breath for 4 seconds.
- Exhale fully through your mouth for another count of 4.
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you feel better. Easy peasy!
#6. SPINAL TWIST WITH BREATHWORK
Things are about to get real awkward, real fast.
That’s because this unique breathing exercise is meant to be done while in a twist pose. That is, you’re seated with the sole of your foot planted firmly on the ground while the other foot is tucked underneath you. You’re also twisting your spine away from your arched leg, pressing off of your bent knee with your elbow for maximum stretch.
If I’m doing a terrible job at describing this twist pose, then look at the above picture or check out this guide on how to shift into a seated spinal twist safely. And be warned: breathing while sitting in this pose can pose a challenge (pun intended.) Your body’s simply not used to it.
So what’s in it for you? Well, word on the street is that breathing while your body is in a twist pose releases stored tension and renews circulation in stagnant parts of your back, skin, and inner organs.
What’s more, your digestive system is particularly affected by the compression in your stomach, so twisting the shit out of your upper body can make some room in your gut, promote cell rejuvenation, and even send renewed oxygen to your blood supply.
Mind you, this is something that Kundalini yoga practitioners purport, and though it may sound far-fetched, I’ve heard crazier things, like climate change being this huge “hoax,” and whatnot. So, suspend your disbelief, dear reader, and “shake it up, baby.” Twist (and shout if you have to.)
HOW TO PRACTICE SPINAL TWIST WITH BREATHWORK:
- Start by sitting on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and your arms resting on your lap.
- Next, place your hands on the floor behind you with your fingers facing away from you.
- Take your right foot and place it flat on the floor or mat. Tuck your left leg underneath you and place your right foot on the outside of your left knee.
- Inhale and bring your left arm up. Exhale and pull your left arm down, then place your elbow on the outside of your right knee.
- Turn your upper body to the right, elongating your neck for a full stretch and using your elbow to push off of your knee.
- Hold this pose for about a minute and breathe. Take deep, deliberate breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Once the minute is over, slowly bring your head back to the center and then follow with your chest and the rest of your upper body.
- Repeat on the other side.
#7. OM CHANT
It said that one of the most common mantras in Hinduism, “om,” is the primal sound that was born when the universe exploded into creation. If you can believe it (and why not?), chanting “A-A-U-U-M-M” while deep breathing will unleash those badass chakras you didn’t even know you had inside of you.
Proponents of this meditation and breathing exercise will argue that the A-U-M resonates through every cell of your body and serves as a reminder of your deep connection to everything.
So yeah, this means that you and I are connected whether you like it or not. If you think I’m never “there for you,” then sit your ass down and send some oms my way. I promise the universe will deliver the message and that I’ll be listening.
HOW TO PRACTICE THE OM CHANT:
- Begin by taking deep breaths and counting to five.
- Then, take a breath and chant “A-A-U-U” on an exhale, followed by silence.
- Repeat this pattern of two syllables/four times before moving onto the third (you’re building up to “AaaUUuuM.”)
- Continue this pattern until there’s only one syllable left, which should always end in “Mmmmmm.”
- The best technique when it comes to pronouncing these sounds is to place your tongue at the roof of your mouth so that all parts of speech have equal emphasis during each repetition.
- P.S. If you prefer to chant “om” silently in your mind, well then, who or what’s to stop you?
THE LIFE-CHANGING BENEFITS OF DEEP BREATHING EXERCISES
It’s no secret that breathing exercises can help reduce stress and anxiety while also helping you karate-chop that out-of-left-field panic attack when it happens.
There are other known benefits to practicing breathing techniques, like improved quality of sleep and equanimity.
If you have any favorite breathing exercises that aren’t mentioned here, or perhaps one you’ve come up with on your own, let me know in the comments (but, like, after you’ve calmed the f*ck down, please and thank you 😀 ).