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Need to relax, calm down or manage your emotions? Sometimes it’s as simple as relaxing your breathing. Learning how to do breathing exercises is useful because many relaxation techniques include breathing exercises.
Woman relaxing with eyes closed credit iStockphotos.com/billnoll
 

Breathing and relaxation

If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, you might notice that you’re doing shallow breathing (or chest breathing) – that is small, short breaths. If you’re breathing more deeply, you’ll notice that your abdomen rises and falls. This is more relaxing.

There are many different breathing exercises that you can use for relaxation. Here are some breathing exercises that you can do anywhere, anytime that you feel like you need to calm down.

Basic breathing exercise

This breathing exercise aims to get you breathing more deeply and feeling more relaxed:

  • Sit, stand or lie down so that you’re comfortable.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Think – five, five, five. As you do each part of this breathing exercise, count to five in your head. Count as quickly or slowly as you need to. When you first begin this exercise, you might be counting quickly, but with practice you’ll be able to slow down your counting.
  • Count to five as you slowly breathe in through your nose.
  • When you feel that your lungs are full, hold the breath while counting to five. If you can hold your breath a few seconds longer, try to do so. This is often the hardest part of the breathing exercise to start with.
  • Now slowly breathe out through your mouth, again counting to five.
  • Repeat this exercise another two times (three times in total).
  • Return to your normal breathing pattern. If you still feel tense or anxious, do the exercise again.

Breathing exercise to release muscle tension

With this breathing and relaxation technique, you start by closing your eyes.

While you breathe in and out slowly and deeply, scan your body from top to bottom. Check for any tension or discomfort. You’ll probably notice that you’re feeling tension somewhere – perhaps in your neck, chest, legs or shoulders.

Now visualise breathing slowly into the areas of your body where you’ve noticed tension or discomfort. Think of it as a warm, healing breath.

Breathing and stretching exercise

Here’s a 10-second breathing exercise that combines breathing and stretching:

  • Stand up straight. As you breathe in through your nose, raise your arms up over your head and touch your palms together.
  • As you release the breath through your mouth, turn the palms of your hands outwards.
  • Slowly bring your arms down while stretching out your hands and fingers at the same time.
Deep breathing exercises aren’t recommended if your stress levels put you at risk of hyperventilation (as in a ‘panic attack’). Speak to your GP if you’re concerned.
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  • Last Updated 12-06-2014
  • Last Reviewed 30-04-2014
  • Van Dixhoorn, J. (2008). Whole-body breathing: A systems perspective on respiratory retraining. In P.M. Lehrer, R.L. Woolfolk & W.E. Sime (Eds), Principles and practice of stress management (3rd edn, pp. 291-332). New York: Guildford Press.