Breathing Exercises for Relaxation, Sleep, and Stress Relief

Breathing is a simple physical process we follow every day, whether we do it consciously or unconsciously. Accordingly, it’s easy to think that breathing isn’t special, or that it can’t bring you significant benefits.

But the reality is, with the right techniques and the right intentions, you can use breathing to relax, relieve stress, sleep better, and achieve a host of other benefits. Best of all, these breathing exercises aren’t difficult to learn—which means you can start using them as soon as you’re done reading this article. You can try some of these exercises on your own, or enlist the help of Aura’s breathing exercise and meditation app!

What Are the Benefits of Breathing Exercises?

Let’s start by exploring some of the benefits of breathing exercises. Primarily, breathing exercises are used as a relaxation technique, but there are many distinct benefits you can enjoy from regular practice:

·   Heart rate and blood pressure reduction. Deep and focused breathing typically allows you to slow your heart rate and reduce your blood pressure. It’s not a long-term fix for circulatory system problems, but it can provide you with temporary relief.

·   Stress reduction. In line with this, breathing exercises can help you destress. If you find yourself in a worrisome or frustrating situation, a handful of deep breaths can calm you down.

·   Anxiety reduction. Similarly, breathing exercises have the power to soothe your anxiety. Your worries seem less significant and less powerful, and you have a chance to end your cycling, persistent thoughts.

·   Focus and clarity of mind. With focused breathing, you’ll have a chance to center your mind. You’ll be able to think clearer and focus more consistently on your work.

·   Relaxation and euphoria. Many people enter a deep state of relaxation when practicing deep breathing exercises, and feel a calm sense of euphoria.

·   Better sleep. One of the most common ways to use breathing exercises is to get better sleep. A clear head, lower stress, and subjective relaxation will help you fall asleep in no time.

Additionally, breathing exercises are useful because of how they can be practiced:

·   Synergy with meditation. Breathing has great synergy with meditation, though each can be used as a separate practice. Both exercises require you to maintain a comfortable position with good posture, preferably in a quiet environment. Additionally, meditation also sometimes requires you to have a locus of concentration—and breathing exercises make for the perfect system.

·   Usefulness anytime. Though there are some exceptions (as you’ll see), most breathing exercises are useful anywhere, at any time. You don’t need any special equipment or tools to use breathing exercises, so you can call upon their benefits whenever you need them.

·   Improved benefits with consistency. Breathing exercises become more effective the more you practice them. Over time, you’ll become more focused, you’ll have greater control over your breath, and you’ll have more patience. In other words, you’ll become a better breather.

Breathing Exercises to Try

If you’re interested in seeing the benefits of breathing exercises, try some of these popular approaches:

·   Belly breathing. Belly breathing, sometimes called diaphragmatic breathing or simply “deep” breathing, is an exercise that requires you to breathe deeply from the belly. Your diaphragm is a muscle that occupies the space between your abdomen and your chest. 

You can breathe by inhaling through your lungs (like you probably do normally) and feeling your chest expand, or you can breathe by calling upon that powerful diaphragm muscle to take a breath from your belly—obviously, you’re still using your lungs, but the force comes from the abdomen. Try to keep your chest as still as possible, keeping a hand on your rib cage, and feel the movement in your diaphragm as you breathe in through your nose. Draw the breath slowly and hold it for a moment, then exhale forcefully through pursed lips, keeping your stomach muscles tight. Try this exercise for 5 to 10 minutes per day to get the best benefits.

·   Lion’s breath (Simhasana). Known as Simhasana in Sanskrit, “Lion’s breath” is a breathing exercise designed to relieve the tension in your chest and face. 

Start in a seated position, with crossed legs or sitting back on your heels; you can also take advantage of the Simhasana yoga pose to do this. Place your hands on your knees, then open your eyes wide and inhale deeply through your nostrils. While inhaling, open your mouth and stick out your tongue. Allow the point of your tongue to come down to your chin. Then, keep the muscles in your throat taut while you exhale through your mouth. 

Some people add emphasis to this phase by emitting a noise like a roar: “HA!” It may feel a little silly, but it can be deeply stress relieving.

·   Equal breathing (Sama Vritti). Equal breathing, also known as Sama Vritti, is commonly used as a way to relax before bed, and shares similarities with other sleep preparation exercises (including counting sheep). Lie down in a comfortable position, then slowly inhale through your nose while counting to 4, and slowly exhale through your nose while counting to 4. That’s it. 

As you get more experienced with this method, and gain more control over your breathing, you can increase your counts; try counting to 8 for each inhale and each exhale.

·   Resonant breathing. With resonant breathing, alternatively called coherent breathing, you’ll focus on achieving a specific number of breaths over a designated timeframe. For example, you might start by trying to inhale and exhale a total of 5 times over the course of a minute; if you’re doing the math, that’s about 12 seconds per cycle, or 6 seconds per inhale and 6 seconds per exhale. This is very similar to equal breathing, since you’ll be inhaling and exhaling for the same amount of time, but the twist is you’ll be using a timer or a clock to stay in rhythm.

·   Alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana). This practice is best used if you’re breathing freely, with no active congestion blocking either of your nasal passageways. You’ll need both to do this technique successfully. Find a comfortable seated position, then exhale. Gently close your right nostril with your hand and inhale through your left nostril slowly. Then, gently close your left nostril and exhale through your right nostril slowly. After that, reverse this process; breathe in through your right nostril, and breathe out through your left nostril. This complete pattern represents one full cycle. Complete several cycles over the course of a few minutes when practicing this exercise.

·   4-7-8 breathing. 4-7-8 breathing is a modification of the equal breathing technique, and many people have found success using it as a way to relax and/or fall asleep at night. To start, you can sit or lie down; as long as you’re comfortable, you’ll be able to make use of this technique. You can also keep your eyes open or closed. Keep your mouth closed and breathe in through your nose for a total of 4 counts. When this is complete, hold your breath for 7 counts (as long as you’re comfortable doing it). Then, exhale over the course of 8 counts. 

This is a challenging breathing exercise for beginners, since it requires an unequal distribution of inhaling and exhaling. Start by practicing just 5 breaths with this method, and work your way up to more breaths over time.

·   Kapalabhati breathing. Kapalabhati, or the “skull-shining breath,” is an exercise that can help you feel invigorated—so try using it in the morning, rather than as an exercise to help you fall asleep. Start in a seated position with good posture and your hands on your knees. Then, slowly inhale through your nose. When you reach the peak of this breath, contract your diaphragm (like you did with diaphragm breathing) and powerfully exhale through your nose. With sufficient force, your body will naturally inhale, beginning the cycle again. Try one full inhale-exhale cycle every 2 seconds with this technique.

·   Humming bee breath (Bhramari). The humming bee breath, or Bhramari technique, is often used as a way to alleviate anger or frustration. As the name suggests, you’ll be making a humming sound, so don’t try to use it in the middle of an argument. Get in a comfortable seated position, then close your eyes and keep your facial muscles relaxed. Place your index fingers on the tragus cartilage of your ear, then inhale. At peak breath, exhale gently and press your fingers gently into this ear cartilage, blocking some external sound. With your mouth closed while exhaling, emit a humming sound.

·   Sitali breathing. Start Sitali breathing in a seated position, then stick out your tongue. If you can curl your tongue, do so now. If not, try pursing your lips. Inhale deeply and slowly through your mouth, then exhale through your nose. Repeat this cycle of breathing for 5 minutes or longer.

Breathing exercises have the power to change your life for the better, especially if used in combination with meditation. You can use both more consistently with the help of the right app. Get Started with Aura, #1 Meditation and Sleep app for iOS or for Android today, and start using these exercises to better yourself.

Join millions who love Aura for emotional health & sleep