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3 mindful breathing exercises

Are you feeling a little stressed?

Don’t worry; you’re not alone. 

According to a recent study, more than three-quarters of Americans say they’ve felt stressed in the past month, and one quarter says they’ve been extremely stressed.

So how can we experience some calm?

Generally, the most effective and straightforward approach is with breathing exercises.


Because when the body is stressed it moves into fight or flight mode. While this helps us deal with situations that require quick action, it causes problems when the response is provoked continuously by day-to-day events, such as money issues or relationship woes.

By using breathing techniques, it tricks the body into relaxing. 

According to Live Strong, this is because breathing slowly “activates the hypothalamus”, which is connected to the pituitary gland in the brain that then sends out neurohormones that inhibit stress-producing hormones and trigger a relaxation response in the body.

So without further ado, here are three breathing exercises that have been proven to help people calm down:

1. Equal Breathing

How it’s done: To do this breathing technique, firstly inhale through the nose to a count of 4, then exhale from the nose for a count of 4.

If you’re the type who likes to improve at something constantly, then over time you can increase the number seconds you inhale and exhale for. Just make sure it’s equal.

Yogis generally do 6-8 counts per breath. This will help to calm the nervous system and reduce stress.

Remember, the main goal of this technique is to equalize your breathing.

When should you use it? This is a brilliant technique because you can pretty much do it anywhere and anytime that you feel stressed. It’s also an excellent technique to do before you sleep.

This breathing technique is generally the first technique taught to beginners. It’s easy to explain, simple to do and most importantly, it helps most people relax.

In fact, this study found that mindful equal breathing helped university students reduce anxiety before undertaking a test.

As you become more experienced, you’ll feel more comfortable increasing your inhales and exhales, which will make you even more relaxed.

2. Progressive Relaxation

How it’s done: This is a two-step process.

First, you take a big deep breath in and tense a particular part of your body, such as your hand. After holding that tension for 5 seconds,  release the tension and exhale your breath.

As you’re doing the 2nd step, you should feel the muscles become loose and limp as the tension flows out.

According to the experts, it’s best to breathe in through the nose, and out through the mouth.

There’s an added benefit to this technique:

It increases your awareness of the sensations associated with tension and as a result, helps you identify when you’re feeling stressed.

A number of studies have found that regularly practicing progressive muscle relaxation may help you keep your stress in check.

When should you use it? You can use this anywhere. However it requires slightly more concentration than Equal Breathing, so definitely don’t do this while you’re driving!

Also, if you find you’re hurting your muscles while tensing, then tone it down a bit. Hurting your muscles is not the goal.

3. Alternate Nostril Breathing

How it’s done: I’m sure you can guess what this technique involves from the title.

To practice, hold the left thumb over the left nostril and inhale deeply through the right nostril.

At the peak of inhalation, close off the right nostril with the ring finger, then exhale through the left nostril.

When should you use it? According to Yogis, this technique makes you feel more centered and tends to wake up you up.

So this is a great one to use before an important meeting or to get your day off to a great start.

Alternate nostril breathing has quite a long history in Ayurvedic medicine.

They believed that it harmonized the two sides of the brain, resulting in mental and emotional balance.

Here are what some studies have found:

1) It activates the parasympathetic nervous system.
2) It enhances respiratory functions, such as breathing strength and endurance.
3) It improves attention and motor performance.

(To learn more practical wisdom from eastern philosophy to improve your life, check out our best-selling eBook, How to Use Buddhist Teachings for a Mindful, Peaceful and Happy Life)


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Lachlan Brown

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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