Breathwork for Stress Reduction

Everyone experiences some level of stress. Stress can affect the nervous system as well as the immune system. Finding ways to alleviate stress when you notice it’s presence is important. During these times, when so much is in flux and we are struggling with the additional stresses of a pandemic, it is extra important to engage in coping skills that minimize the impact of stress. Neuroscience has shown the many benefits of breathwork on calming the nervous system to minimize the effects of stress. Below are several breathing exercises you can utilize to reduce stress.

Abdominal Breathing

Neuroscience shows that abdominal breathing slows your entire body down; your heart rate and blood pressure reduce with each controlled deep breath you take.

During this technique, as you breathe, try to focus on your diaphragm (the space right below your stomach and rib cage), not your chest. This will activate the vagus nerve which will trigger the parasympathetic nervous system calming the body.

To start, place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.

Breathe in through your nose so that your diaphragm inflates with enough air to produce a stretch in your lungs and extend your lower abdomen. Then exhale slowly.

You want each breath to be deep and steady. Count your breath so your exhalation is one count longer than your inhalation. Aim for at least a four count in and a five count out.

Repeat this technique with seven to ten breaths per minute for ten minutes.

Alternate Nostril Breathing (aka Nadi Shodhana)

This technique is designed to integrate the right and left sides of your brain leading to feelings of calm and balance.

Find a comfortable pose; this can be on the floor, or on a chair or a sofa. Find a position that is most comfortable for you.

Hold your right nostril down with your thumb and breathe in deeply through your left nostril.

At the peak of inhalation, let go of your right nostril and cover your left nostril. Next, exhale through your right nostril. You should continue with this technique until you feel calm and focused.

As this method connects your brain on a deep level, it is best not to practice this technique before going to bed. Instead, it is beneficial to assist in focusing for work or daily activities. After doing this breathing technique for several days you will notice that your mind is more quiet nad your worried thoughts have decreased.

This type of breathing assists you in feeling calm and balance, as well as feeling focused and energized.

Relaxing Breath (aka “4-7-8”)

This is a great technique to completely relax the body and nervous system. Try it in different scenarios—perhaps when you feel internal tension, or when you are upset about something that happened, or simply to help you relax before going to bed.

Sit comfortably with your back as straight as possible.

Place the tip of your tongue behind your upper front teeth where they meet the gum ridge. Keep your tongue in this position for the duration of the technique.

Start by exhaling fully. Then inhale quietly for a count of four. Then hold your breath for a count of seven. Then exhale fully for a count of eight. This counts as one full breath. Aim to do four or five full breaths each time you practice this technique.

Stillness in Breath

This breathing exercise is to bring awareness to your breath and body and does not require counting, merely observing.

Begin by sitting comfortably, closing your eyes. Once comfortable begin by observing your breathing pattern. There is no need to change anything, just observe it.

Once you feel settled and able to fully observe your natural breathing rhythm, bring your awareness to the moment at which the breath changes from inhalation to exhalation. Then observe as it changes from exhalation to inhalation. Notice whether there is a gap, or a still pause, between the breaths. Again, no need to change anything but observe your natural rhythm.

It is natural for the mind to wander, if you notice that your mind is wandering during, simply bring your attention back to the breath. With practice, this technique becomes easier and leads to a continuous experience in which you will find peace.

Stimulating Breath (aka Bellows Breath)

This technique invigorates your senses and sharpens your mind. With practice it will raise your vital energy so that you feel an increased level of alertness.

Sit comfortably. Inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose. Your mouth should remain shut and as relaxed as possible. Try to keep your inhales and exhales equal in duration but as quick as possible.

Beginners, should start by practicing this technique for a maximum of fifteen seconds. Once you become more comfortable you can increase the duration you practice by five seconds until you reach a full minute.

Similar to the alternating nostril breathing technique, this technique connects with your mind on a deep level. It is not recommended that you do this before you go to sleep as it activates the brain and may make it difficult for you to fall asleep.

Neuroscience has shown that by practicing breathing meditation for ten to fifteen minutes a day stress and anxiety levels significantly decrease. The more you practice breathing techniques the more you experience calmness of the mind, feelings of happiness and fulfillment, and worries melt away.

If this way of working is intriguing to you, please feel free to contact me for a free 20 minute consultation at or 503-880-7190.