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4 Exercises for relaxation, anxiety, and stress

Updated: 5 days ago

Breathing is more than a physical requirement to live. It is foundational to spiritual, mental, and emotional aspects of life.

Hindus call it prana, Chinese refer to it as chi, and Christians believe in the Holy Spirit, which breathes in them. The breath has been essential to Zen Buddhist and yogic traditions. The word “spirit” is derived from the Latin spiritus, which means “breath” or “breath of life” (Lee & Speier, 1996).

The breath remains a powerful tool that can improve mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing at any given time.

Here are 4 breathing exercises that help us focus on our breath to bring us back to center and the present moment.

4 Breathing Exercises:

1. Pursed-lip breathing is a great technique to relieve stress and anxiety. To do this exercise, simply breathe in slowly through the nose and breathe out through the mouth with pursed lips (as if sucking through a straw). Make the breath out approximately twice as long as the breath in.

2. Box breathing is also known as square breathing. It has been shown to reduce stress and boost focus and concentration (Sharma et al., 2014). This exercise involves breathing in through the nose for a count of four, holding the breath for a count of four, breathing out slowly for a count of four, and then holding for another count of four, essentially making a “square” or “box” with the breath.

3. 4-7-8 breathing is especially helpful for falling asleep (Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, 2010). Focusing on the breath and counting can distract the mind from worry and ruminating thoughts. This technique involves breathing in through the nose for a count of four, holding the breath for a count of seven, and exhaling through the lips for a count of eight (handout provided below).

4. The 5–4–3–2–1 exercise involves looking at five objects, listening for four sounds, touching three objects, identifying two smells, and naming one thing you can taste. It brings you into the present moment and can help distract the mind from panic.


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