Breathing Exercises for Stress Relief
Dr. Kirti Singh

Dr. Kirti Singh

Jun 09Mental health

Breathing Exercises for Stress Relief

Why is breathing important? Ain't it natural?

In our hurried and stress-filled lives, we often tend to ignore the amount of breathing in and out we do, and due to increased levels of stress and anxiety, we may even skip a breath or two. Even though no noticeable effects can be observed at that moment, it can, over time, lead to a range of health issues ranging from anxiety to depression, to irregular sleep patterns to disruptions in cognitive functions like memory retention, reading, concentration, understanding, decision-making, etc.

Stress is one of the main factors in the development of various pathological conditions including depression, sleep disorders, anxiety, CHD (coronary heart disease), obesity, hypertension and diabetes.

It is predicted that by the year 2020, depression will have risen from fourth to the second most widespread health situation globally, taking into consideration associated disabilities and premature mortalities

When to see your doctor

An excessive amount of yawning and sighing may indicate an underlying health condition like increased stress levels, fatigue, irregular sleep patterns, sleep apnea, anxiety and depression or a respiratory condition. If you notice an excessive increase in the frequency of your sighing or yawning along with shortness of breath or symptoms of anxiety or depression, it is recommended to see your doctor.

What is pranayama and what are its benefits?

Pranayama literally means “life-force control”, where Prana means energy and Yama means control. It is an ancient practice of controlling your breath wherein you control the timing, duration and frequency of every breath and hold. The goal of pranayama is to connect your mind and body.

It has various benefits such as -

  • It improves your skin health by supplying a higher amount of oxygen to the skin cells as compared to normal breathing
  • It helps to improve digestion by helping to regulate the gut-brain axis (physical and chemical connections between your gut and your brain).
  • It helps to strengthen the lungs and can relieve symptoms of asthma
  • It helps to improve your sinus health by encouraging airflow and relieving blockages
  • It also helps to improve cardiovascular health by modifying the heart rate and increasing oxygen flow
  • It boosts immunity by decreasing stress and inflammatory levels in the body
  • Lastly, it can reduce psychological stress and make you feel more calm and relaxed.

sleep disorders

What are some easy-to-do exercises and pranayama techniques that I can do?

Try and practice these exercises for about 5-10 minutes daily to observe significant changes.

Deep and slow conscious breathing -

  • Firstly, get comfortable. You may lie on your back in bed or on the floor with a pillow under your head and knees or you can sit on a chair with your shoulders, head and neck supported against the back of the chair.
  • Slowly breathe in through your nose and let your belly fill with air and breathe out
  • Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest
  • As you breathe in, you should feel your belly rise and as you breathe out, you should feel your belly lower. The hand on your belly should move more than the hand on your chest.
  • Take three more full and deep breaths while breathing fully in your belly as it rises and falls with your breath.

Coherent breathing or equal focused breathing

  • Sit comfortably on a chair or on the floor
  • Breathe in through your nose and as you do it, count to five
  • Breathe out through your nose and count to five
  • Repeat this several times. Once comfortable, you can try and increase the duration anywhere from 5 to 10 counts

4-4-4-4 breathing

  • Either sit or lie down, depending on your comfort level
  • Inhale to the count of four, hold your breath to a count of four, exhale fully and slowly with control to a count of four and finally, hold your breath for a count of four
  • You may repeat this technique as per your requirement

4-7-8 breathing or relaxing breath

  • This involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding your breath for seven seconds and exhaling for 8 seconds. These breathing patterns aim to reduce anxiety and regulate sleep patterns

Muscle relaxation breathing

  • Lie comfortably on the floor
  • Take in a few deep breaths and relax your body
  • Now, breathe in and contract the muscles of your feet
  • Breathe out and release your feet
  • Next, breathe in and flex your calf muscles
  • Breathe out and release
  • Work your way up to your body in this manner by contracting/flexing each muscle group. This includes your legs, belly, chest, fingers, arms, shoulders, neck and face.

Modified lion’s breath

  • Sit comfortably on the floor or on a chair
  • Breathe in through your nose and fill your belly all the way up with air
  • When you can’t breathe in any more, open your mouth as wide as you can and exhale with a “HA” sound
  • Repeat as per requirement

The following are some pranayama exercises that you can do

  • Nadi Shodhana / Alternate nostril breathing - This technique balances the restrained life energy of the body and two sides of the brain. It calms the mind, increases vitality and is good pranayama to help with depression and emotional imbalance
  • Surya Bheda / Right-nostril breathing - This is especially good pranayama that helps with depression, dullness and difficulties with communication.
  • Kapalbhati / Skull shining breath / Frontal brain cleanser breath - This is another extremely beneficial practice of pranayama to help with depression. It helps by calming the mind, diminishing unnecessary thoughts and rejuvenating the mind and body.
  • Bhastrika / Bellows breath - This is another effective pranayama for depression and anxiety. It also detoxifies the body, purifies the mind, creates internal heat and stimulates metabolism, helps with weight and balances and strengthens the nervous system, thereby resulting in a peaceful, calm and focused state of mind
  • Ujjayi pranayama / Victory breath / Ocean breath / Psychic breath - This particular technique is quite important and has numerous benefits. It is an excellent pranayama for depression, anxiety and stress. It includes inhaling deep and exhaling out with a deep hoarse sound, the throat slightly constricted as in whispering. Ujjayi is very calming and soothes the nervous system. This technique can be done during meditation, for added benefits.
  • Anulom Vilom - A regular practise of this technique has been known to be very helpful in treating respiratory conditions like asthma, bronchitis, etc. It can also help with heart problems, severe depression, high blood pressure and migraine.
  • Brahmari pranayama / Humming bee breathing - Keep your lips lightly sealed as you inhale through the nose. Then, make a humming “M'' sound as you exhale fully. The longer you can hum, the more stress-relieving this pranayama becomes. Be careful to not force your breathing beyond your capacity.

In conclusion 

A daily practice of these breathing exercises is a simple and easy way to combat stress and its effects, with added benefits for your body and mind. Even though stress has become an inevitable aspect of our lives, every step that you take towards dealing with it is the right step forward.

Disclaimer - This information is educational and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before making any dietary changes or adding supplements.

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