5 Most Effective Breathing and Relaxation Techniques
At times, we get so consumed in our hectic lifestyles with deadlines to meet and work-life pressure that we actually forget to relax! Yet using breathing and relaxation techniques during the day can give us the energy we need to tackle our workload or the problem we are facing.
Stress can be harmful for the mind and the body. Physical symptoms such as headaches, tension in the neck and shoulders, dizziness, fatigue and poor sleep can all be a result of stress overload. Stress also leads to serious health problems like high blood pressure, headaches, stomach aches, anxiety and depression. It can affect our mental state too as it elevates levels of cortisol, a hormone that affects the function of the brain.
We are not always able to avoid stress, but learning to manage stress is key! Breathing and relaxation techniques can help your body relax and lower your blood pressure and heart rate. Our Wellness Expert at Shanti-Som has selected some of the most effective and easily accessible techniques for you to try. Learning the basics of these relaxation techniques isn’t difficult, but it takes regular practice to truly harness their stress-relieving power. Try setting aside at least 10 minutes a day for your relaxation practice.
Finding the Best Breathing and Relaxation Techniques for You.
For many of us, relaxation means flopping on the couch and zoning out with Netflix at the end of a stressful day. But this does little to reduce the damaging effects of stress. Rather, you need to activate your body’s natural relaxation response, a state of deep rest that puts the brakes on stress, slows your breathing and heart rate, lowers your blood pressure, and brings your body and mind back into balance. You can do this by practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation and Yoga.
While you may choose to pay for a professional massage or acupuncture session, for example, most relaxation techniques can be done on your own or with the aid of a free audio download or inexpensive smartphone app. It’s important to remember, however, that there is no single relaxation technique that works for everyone. We’re all different. The right technique is the one that resonates with you, fits your lifestyle, and is able to focus your mind to elicit the relaxation response. That means it may require some trial and error to find the technique that work best for you. Once you do, regular practice can help reduce everyday stress and anxiety, improve your sleep, boost your energy and mood, and improve your overall health and wellbeing.
Tools for Guided Breathing and Relaxation Techniques
There are many different types of relaxation techniques, and each one differs depending on the type of situation or personal preference.
Many people find that smartphone apps or audio downloads can be useful in guiding them through different relaxation practices, establishing a regular routine, and keeping track of progress. For example, Breathe is a free app for Apple users that includes a feature to set reminders to use it regularly during the day.
A free app called Prana Breath: Calm & Meditate is available from the Google Play store. It helps users practice breathing cycles and different methods of breathing for relaxation.
Try this 1-minute deep breathing exercise
Types of Breathing and Relaxation Techniques
1. The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique
The 4-7-8 breathing technique requires a person to focus on taking a long, deep breath in and out. Rhythmic breathing is a core part of many meditation and yoga practices as it promotes relaxation. Some proponents claim that the method helps people get to sleep in 1 minute.
To use the 4-7-8 technique, focus on the following breathing pattern:
- breathe in quietly through the nose for 4 seconds
- hold the breath for a count of 7 seconds
- exhale forcefully through the mouth, pursing the lips and making a “whoosh” sound, for 8 seconds
- repeat the cycle up to 4 times
To start with you will probably find holding your breath for 7 seconds difficult, so don’t push yourself and aim for the right ratio of breaths in and out. The total number of seconds that the pattern lasts for is less important than keeping the ratio.
When you are starting out this technique, you may try a shorter pattern instead, such as:
- breathe in through the nose for 2 seconds
- hold the breath for a count of 3.5 seconds
- exhale through the mouth for 4 seconds
As long as a person maintains the correct ratio, they may notice benefits after several days or weeks of doing 4-7-8 breathing consistently one to two times a day.
2. Abdominal Breathing Technique
The abdominal breathing technique can be really helpful before experiencing a particularly stressful event like taking an exam or giving a big presentation. This is a great way to level your breath when you can feel your heart pounding in your chest.
How to do it:
- Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose, allowing diaphragm (not your chest) to inflate with enough air to create a slight stretching sensation in your lungs.
- Slowly exhale.
Try taking 6–10 deep, slow breaths per minute for 10 minutes each day using this breathing technique. Keep at it for 6 to 8 weeks, and those benefits might stick around even longer.
3. Progressive Muscular Relaxation
This technique involves tightening and relaxing the muscles throughout your body. Here’s how to do it:
- Start with the muscles in your toes and feet
- Tighten them for a few moments and then relax them
- Move up your body, tightening and relaxing one muscle group at a time
Here are a few examples of ways to engage in progressive muscular relaxation. Hold each position for five seconds, and then relax.
- Raise your eyebrows as high as you can.
- Close your eyes as tightly as possible and keep them shut for five seconds.
- Open your mouth as wide as possible, as if you’re yawning.
- Hold your arms in front of you and clench your fists as tightly as possible.
- Pull your shoulder muscles up toward your ears.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles.
- Curl your toes downwards as much as possible.
Yoga involves a series of both moving and stationary poses, combined with deep breathing. As well as reducing fatigue, anxiety and stress, yoga can also improve flexibility, strength, balance, and stamina. To start with it’s best to join a group class or at least follow a Yoga video as the incorrect technique can lead to injuries
Although almost all yoga classes end in a relaxation pose, classes that emphasize slow, steady movement, deep breathing, and gentle stretching are best for stress relief.
- Yin Yoga is all about relaxation and deep stretches for the ultimate Zen. It is a more passive style of yoga with gentle poses, deep relaxation and mediation which makes it suitable for beginners as well as anyone aiming for stress reduction.
- Hatha yoga is also a reasonably gentle way to relieve stress and is suitable for beginners. Alternately, look for labels like gentle, for stress relief, or for beginners when selecting a yoga class.
- Vinyasa yoga, with its intense poses and focus on fitness, is better suited to those looking for stimulation as well as relaxation.
Meditation involves focused attention to help you relax and has many benefits. Meditation may help you react in a calmer way to your emotions and thoughts, including those that cause stress. Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years, and there are several different styles.
This is one way to do it:
- Sit down in a comfortable position
- Notice and relax your body, paying attention to your body’s weight and how it feels
- Focus on your breath. Don’t change your breathing, just focus on your natural breath, the sensation of breathing in and out
- When your mind strays, let the thoughts pass through. Go back to focusing on your breath. Keep at it for about 5 minutes
When you first start practicing, you’ll likely find that your focus keeps wandering back to your worries or regrets. But don’t get disheartened. Each time you draw your focus back to the present, you’re strengthening a new mental habit that can help you break free of fretting about the past or stressing about the future. Using an app or audio download can also help focus your attention, especially when you’re starting out.
Sometimes it can take time and practice to start reaping the full rewards of breathing and relaxation techniques. Try to carve out some time, just before bed or whilst you walk the dog. The more you stick with it, the sooner the results will come. If you skip a few days or even a few weeks, don’t get discouraged. Just get started again and slowly build up to your old momentum.
Your breath is one of your best defenses against daily stress, frustration, and angst. Once you learn the art of expert inhaling and exhaling, you’ll likely start to feel better. You might notice that you’ve developed a little extra resilience and grace.