Top 10 Breathing Techniques to Relieve Stress

Jessica Lewis
May 20, 2016

Why is Breathing Correctly Important?

We all breathe since the first second we’re born and we never stop until we die, so what more is there to it? As with many other things we take for granted, there is a hidden benefit in trying to understand what’s going on and do it properly. Once you do that you might be surprised on how much you can achieve with some simple breathing techniques.

From the first breath that expands the lungs of a newborn baby, breathing is essential for life. We can go several weeks without food, without water enough days but the cessation of respiratory functions is limited to a few minutes. We become aware of this permanent miracle that keeps us alive only when it is disturbed or we are in pain.

Breathing opens its doors to improved health and strengthens the body and mind.

How Breathing Works?

The air enters the nasal passages, where it is filtered, reheated and moisturized, then passes the pharynx, where the digestive tract crosses with the respiratory system; then moves in the larynx, through a hole called the glottis and the whose muscles produce vibrations; the air then enters the trachea, through whose end enters the bronchi that lead it to the lungs; left lung has two lobes and the right three lobes. In the lungs, the air travels bronchioles that stretch to tiny cavities called lung lobules.

Measurements for air in our lungs:

  • Vital capacity: – 0.5 liters is breathing air; + 1.5 liters is complementary air; + 1.5-liter air reserve; So in total, we have 3.5 liters of vital capacity.
  • Residual air: The air remaining in the lungs (1.5 liters after a forced breathing) is the residual air.
  • Total lung capacity: The air that a person can contain in the lungs at full volume, in average 6 liters.

Due to the lungs, oxygen enters the blood, where it is transported by hemoglobin found in the red blood cells. In the lungs, gas exchange is operated by diffusion from the alveoli walls, which provide a large surface area and the circulation of blood removes dioxide carbon.

Gasrterial respiration may be compared to a slow-burning phenomenon, a number of complex chemical reactions that result in an oxygenation of tissues at the cellular level. The cells absorb oxygen and remove carbon dioxide and water, releasing a certain amount of energy.

The heart is a muscle and constitutes the engine of blood circulation. Heart rate varies according to age, daytime and effort. For an adult at rest, it is generally around 75 pulses / minute.

The heart is divided into four cavities: left and right auricles and right and left ventricles. Right auricle receives peripheral blood passing into the right ventricle to be pumped into the pulmonary artery. The left auricle receives blood from the lungs through the pulmonary veins and the left ventricle pumps blood into the aorta.

Breathing is necessary for a proper oxygenation of the blood. A good breathing improves venous return and increases cardiac output to the same number of heartbeats, which allow less time for physical recovery.

Normally, we are not, nor should be aware of breathing. A child or an athlete breathes correctly and they do not need directions or help. But adults tend to present disrupted breathing patterns due to chronic muscle tension, that deforms and restricts respiration. These tensions are the result of emotional conflicts developed during their growth.

We can develop a tendency to keep us constantly breathing, never filling in the entire lungs, keeping always the lungs half-empty. In some people, while the chest expands through inspiration, the abdomen withdraws.

This causes a serious disturbance, because, despite a considerable effort to expand the chest, they inhale less air because the downward movement of the lungs is blocked. Instead of expansion and contraction, they breathe in a wrong way thus subjecting the body to stress and at the same time not delivering the required oxygen. It is the typical shallow breathing; there are moments when abdominal movements occur also but the chest remains rigid.

Side Effects of Incorrect Breathing

Incorrect breathing leads to psychical fatigue, lack of attention and concentration, headaches, insomnia and asthma, lack of exercise resistance, loss of dynamism. As the person breathes shallowly, the greater is the number of breaths / minute that will be needed to absorb the same amount of oxygen.

Breathing Techniques Benefits

Breathing techniques are considered to be effective methods and universal stress release, for many reasons operates promptly, can be put into practice in the office, at home or in the park, they are free, require very little training to perform them correctly and quickly dispels negative effects of chronic stress.

Studies in this regard have shown that the mere breath control induces deep relaxation and increases body temperature, favoring the installation of a calm state. Breathing therapy was applied successfully treat the following medical problems:

  • – Exacerbated States of physical and mental tension;
  • – Hyperventilation;
  • – Chronic fatigue;
  • – Headache;
  • – Sleep disorders;
  • – Troubles in concentration;
  • – Anxiety and phobias;
  • – Panic disorder;
  • – Depression;
  • – Heart diseases.
Remember that breathing techniques are only one component of various methods to overcome diseases, not a substitute for them.

Those who have observed long enough breathing have probably noticed that, in general, the air does not move evenly through the nasal passages. Usually, when the left nostril is more open, the right is closed and vice versa. This happens because the blood moves through the two nostrils at a rhythm that takes about 1.5-2 hours. This “ultradian rhythm,” extensively studied by medicine, is in close relationship with the cerebral hemispheres function and may play an important role in the healing process. When the left nostril is more open, the right hemisphere is more active and vice versa.

Anyone can use this to their own benefit. For example, we open a congested nostril which will further activate the opposite hemisphere, stretching in us on one side with congested nostril up and continuing to breathe through the nose. If you do not feel well or your experience headaches, try this experiment for 15-20 minutes. Often the results are satisfactory.

Breathing, Hyperventilation, and Anxiety

As we learn to observe breathing, many of us realize that and stand still when our breathing rate is faster than the “average” of 12 to 14 breaths per minute (a higher rate than normal). In fact, many of us, “hyperventilate”, meaning that we take shallow breaths, only with the tip of our lungs. This way of breathing drastically reduces the level of carbon dioxide in the blood.

This low level of carbon dioxide makes the arteries, including the carotid artery that supplies the brain with blood, to tighten, thereby reducing blood circulation in the body. When this happens, no matter the amount of oxygen in our lungs, there will be a lack of oxygen anyway. Lack of oxygen activates the sympathetic nervous system – “Fight-or-flight response” – which makes us irritable and restless. Such breathing reduces our ability to think clearly and we succumb to obsessive thoughts and images.

Some researchers believe that hyperventilation may increase our psychological conflicts and problems as chronic hyperventilation is inextricably linked to our fears and anxieties. The secret to slowing down our breathing is not to attempt to deliberately slow it down but to learn how to breathe deeply, using in this process the diaphragm muscle, abdomen, and chest cage.

Relaxation Breathing

Some of us try to breathe deeply when we want to relax. Unfortunately, most of us do not know how to breathe deeply. We do not know how to release unwanted tension in the abdomen, back, and ribs. As a result, our efforts to ward off stress by deep breathing often causes shallow breathing that makes us irritable and tense. But there is also a solution to this problem, the deepening, and lengthening of the exhalation. When we groan, exhalation is longer than usual. This activates the parasympathetic system. So what you have to do is to make sure that exhalation is longer than inspiration. Put your conscience to work. Try to feel the air moving up and out through the nose. Do not bother with inspiration; it will go by itself.

Deep breathing can improve physical form

In a study published on May 2, 1998, researchers at the University of Pavia, Italy, have established an optimal breathing rate of 6 breaths per minute. Patients who have learned to slow down breathing finally have reached a higher level of oxygen in the blood and have achieved outstanding performance during testing.

According to the report, the low level of oxygen in the blood, typically for those suffering from heart conditions, “may affect skeletal muscles and metabolism and can lead to muscle atrophy. “The study authors concluded saying that these results are consistent with other studies” showing benefits of exercises for the muscles that support breathing process”.

We are a generation guilty of bringing extra partners to the bedroom, such as smartphones with their bright screens, also working on the computer when we are already in bed and get ready to sleep or even fall asleep with the TV turned on. All these mistakes have caused an imbalance in our ability to fall asleep in a short time and most importantly, we cannot really relax, for both mind and our body to recover during the night.

But there is a way by which we can educate restless body and mind relax and also to be ready for maximum effort. All you have to do is breathe! Yes, you read it right! Breathing and techniques derived from it can help us relax and we get a good sleep but these techniques can also help us fight diseases and improve our general health and wellbeing.

Top 10 breathing techniques to relax your mind and body

Breathe slowly

Of course, also someone probably suggested to you to try to breathe at a more sedate pace, but the reality is that many of us do not know how to do this in the right way! It is important to focus attention on the contraction of the diaphragm, use the abdominal muscles and lungs to inhale large amounts of air. It is also equally important to keep our breath for a few moments and then exhale. Gradually! This word is crucial in practicing this type of breathing technique.

When we focus the mind and body on practicing deep breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure simultaneously calm down and you induce a state of calm and relaxation throughout the body.

According to a 2010 research, this method of breathing makes your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for your ability to relax, to take control of your sympathetic nervous system that is responsible for stress moments. Lie on your back in bed and practice this breathing for 10 minutes before falling asleep.

The 4-7-8 Technique

The 4-7-8 technique is recommended by holistic therapists in this area, stating that it will help you fall asleep, and will help in all times of stress. All you have to do to calm your wandering mind is to sit on the bed in a comfortable position with your back as straight as possible.
Press the tip of the tongue to the palate, just behind the upper teeth. While maintaining this position, close your mouth and inhale slowly through your nose for four moments, trap the air while you count to 7 and then exhale through your mouth out for another 8 moments. Repeat this technique four times.

The traditional technique of meditative breathing

It may seem to you that this technique is a complicated one, in reality, all you have to do is meditate. Meditation is the perfect remedy against a restless mind, which seems to jump from one thought to another.
A study by Catherine Kerr, neuroscientist, demonstrated that focusing on breathing and rhythm is the first step for practicing meditation. The connection with the breathing rhythm and trying to detect air movement in your body can trigger muscle relaxation.
These physical changes help you release any negative feelings and thoughts while you stay connected with your own body and your own breathing. For this exercise to really work, it needs at least 10 minutes of practice every night.

Yoga breathing technique

In Sanskrit, Kapal means forehead and Bhati mean shine. Thus, the breathing technique Kapalbhati’s mission is to “detoxify” the mind, while you focus all your energy on your breathing. In addition, this method found in Yoga will help you clean your lungs of carbon dioxide and it will fill you with pure oxygen, will help your digestive system to work better and will take care of your heart health.

To try Kapalbhati you have to sit on your knees with your feet gathered under you and keep your back as straight as possible. Keep your hands on your knees. Inhale deeply through your nose, and out through your mouth vigorously, while you contract the abdominal muscles in a fast pace.

The alternate nostrils breathing technique

Another technique that is common in Nadi Shodhana Yoga, a pranayama technique to control your breathing. In fact, this method involves alternating nostrils for the breath’s inspiration and expiration phases.
Thus, both mind and body get at a state of equilibrium and calm. It is important to know that in the pranayama technique, mouth breathing is perceived by the brain as a signal for the state of stress in the body.

Try this exercise at night before going to sleep and start it with the right nostril. Find a comfortable position and make sure that your back is straight. With the ring finger of the right hand, plug the left nostril and breathe down with your right nostril. Then, expire with the left nostril while you cover your right nostril with your thumb. Try to keep your eyes closed while trying this technique.

Twice as much exhalation breathing technique

Another technique for which to thank the yogis is the doubling time of expiration. To induce the benefits of a relaxing calm breath, try to breathe out a period of time which is twice the time dedicated to inspiration.
Tests showed that this type of breathing has the power to reset the body’s autonomic nervous system. Also, trying to respect the time devoted to inspiration and exhalation will keep you away from negative thoughts or “counting sheep”.

Diaphragm breathing technique

Recent research has revealed the existence of a relationship between shallow breathing and heart attacks. Donna Farhi as shown in ” The Breathing Book “(page 59), that patients who suffered a heart attack were taught how to insert the diaphragm breathing technique in their everyday life.
“Realizing this,” Farhi says “they have reduced the chances of having a second heart attack. Another study showed that all 153 patients who were hospitalized with coronary problems were also breathing shallow. Learning to breathe deeply will help our heart.

A breathing technique for eye relaxation

People whose work requires extreme visual concentration (and the list is quite long, especially in this age of computer technology) can improve performance and increase energy relaxing the facial muscles. This can be done easily by simply looking in a different direction than the one that we focus when working, frequently.

This will also help to breathe. When your facial muscles are tense and eyes are focused in a spot too long, the movement of the diaphragm during breathing decreases. Thus decreases the amount of oxygen that enter the body. Moreover, this shallow breathing slows the flow of lymph thus reducing the effectiveness of the immune system. So “check” your facial muscles every 15 minutes to see if your eyes are tense and move your gaze often.

Conscious breathing technique for relaxation and cramps

Those who practice Yoga, Qi Gong, those who meditate and those interested in alternative medicine know that conscious breathing can reduce stress, alleviate pain and great relaxation. In the book “Molecules of Emotion” Candace Pert, a well-known neurologist shows that conscious breath during meditation can bring many benefits.
Such breathing can help us “engage in mind-body conversation without prejudices or preconceived opinions and liberate small peptide molecules in the brain to regulate breathing”.

The secret seems to be a simple conscious breathing, focusing our attention on our breathing in and out rhythmically, but without interfering in the process. So if you want to relax, reduce stress and alleviate pain, try to stay calm and silently for a few minutes a day just watching your breath.

Breathing technique for digestion

This kind of breathing is a simple but effective exercise that helps digestion. Use your hands to stimulate points on the meridians spleen and stomach while breathing is directed into the abdomen.

For this breathing technique, you have to sit on a chair, keep your back straight but relaxed and feet parallel to the ground. Place your hands on your knees with the hands resting on the kneecap and fingers facing down. Use your forefinger, middle and ring to find hollows under the kneecap where these fingers will remain during exercise.

After you set your fingers gently press to stimulate the meridians, maintaining this pressure throughout the exercise. Feel the heat that enters the knee through the fingers. On inspiration insert energy. On the exhalation, feel your abs contract naturally. Do not force. Exercise at least 5 minutes after every meal or whenever you have digestive problems.


Even if you don’t think much about your breathing, try one of the above and you will surely find out that there is more to breathing that you have thought.