Breathing is one of the few functions of the human body that is controlled both consciously and unconsciously. We don't have to worry about forgetting to breathe, because our respiratory centers will pick up where we leave off to make sure we are breathing according to what our body needs in the moment.
Breathwork is the practice of conscious, intentional breathing that is both incredibly accessible and powerful for changing the state of your body and mind. Whether you are looking for pain relief, relaxation, or improved energy, there is a breathwork strategy that can support you on your journey. For each of these techniques, keep in mind that breathing in and out through your nose is more efficient than breathing through your mouth unless otherwise indicated.
Here are 6 effective breathwork exercises for finding calm, relaxation and better sleep, reducing stress, more energy, and self-regulation :
1. Box Breathing: For Finding Calm
Box breathing, also known as "square breathing", is a breathing technique comprised of four parts: inhale, pause, exhale, pause. Each component is the same length of time, typically 4 to 6 seconds. This looks like:
Inhaling for 4 seconds
Holding your breath for 4 seconds
Exhaling for 4 seconds
Holding again for 4 seconds -Repeat.
While box breathing is typically done in a 5 minute round, how long you repeat this technique is up to you- even a few minutes can promote relaxation, release tension, increase oxygen, and stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system that turns off your "fight or flight" response and turn on your "rest and digest" system.
Box breathing originated from pranayama breathwork practices in the Ayurvedic tradition of India and is now used by Navy SEALs to remain calm before and after combat.
2. Sama Vritti Breathing: For Soothing Anxiety
Sama Vritti means "equal fluctuations" in Sanskrit and is the practice of inhaling and exhaling for the same amount of time. This technique is easy to remember and can be used to soothe anxiety anytime you need it. All you have to do is:
Inhale for 3 seconds, then exhale for 3 seconds.
Inhale for 4 seconds, then exhale for 4 seconds.
Inhale for 5 seconds, then exhale for 5 seconds.
Inhale for 6 seconds, then exhale for 6 seconds.
Inhale for 7 seconds, then exhale for 7 seconds.
Inhale for 8 seconds, then exhale for 8 seconds.
Inhale for 9 seconds, then exhale for 9 seconds.
Inhale for 10 seconds, then exhale for 10 seconds.
If a 10 second breath feels too long, only increase the time of each breath to what feels comfortable for you and continue breathing at that rate for as long as you would like. That could look like working up to a 6 second breath, and then continuing that breath for a few minutes until you feel calm and relaxed.
3. 4-7-8 Breathing: For Relaxation and Better Sleep
The 4-7-8 breath, or "Relaxing Breath", was developed by Dr. Andrew Weil to create almost an instant state of relaxation. It is recommended that you sit with your back straight while learning this technique, though this is a portable exercise that can be done anywhere. Here's how it goes:
Closing your mouth, inhale quietly through your nose on a 4-0 count.
Hold your breath for a 7-0 count
Slowly exhale completely for an 8-0 count
Repeat three more times
Because this exercise is based on the ratio of counts, not seconds, you can breathe at whatever rate feels the best to you. As you practice, you will be able to breathe more slowly and deeply.
4. 1-to-2 Ratio Breathing: For Reducing Stress
While inhaling and exhaling are equally important in breathing, they activate different branches of our nervous system and can be used to our advantage when utilized consciously. When we inhale, our heart rate goes up and the "fight or flight" sympathetic branch is stimulated, and when we exhale our heart rate goes down and the "rest and digest" parasympathetic branch is stimulated. Living in a stressed state means that we often inhale longer than we exhale, operating out of tension and tightness instead of relaxation and calm. This 1-2 Breathing allows us to intentionally lengthen our exhalation and re-balance our nervous system.
To begin, simply allow your breathing to find a natural rhythm and then follow the steps below:
Breathe in for 3-0 counts
Breathe out for 6-0 counts
If you find yourself gasping for breath after your exhale, focus on slowly filling your belly with air on the inhale and very gently letting it go on the exhale. Eventually you will experience a smooth transition between each in and out breath and can stay aware of how your body is responding to a new way of breathing.
5. 5-3-3 Breathing: For More Energy
This 5-3-3 Breathing series is the perfect pick-me-up whenever you'd like to feel more energized, whether that's first thing in the morning or when you feel an afternoon slump coming on. This technique was invented by basketball coach Dominique Williams who based it on both Buddhist meditation practices and martial arts training. Make sure you are breathing into your diaphragm (belly area) in this exercise and not drawing breath shallowly into the upper part of your chest. While most breathwork practices are designed to be used while sitting, this one is best when standing. Here's how you do it:
Slowly inhale through your nose and exhale through your nose. Repeat for a total of 5 times.
Quickly breathe in through your nose and out of your nose three times.
Inhale through your nose then exhale loudly with sound out. Repeat for a total of three times.
Do this circuit at least twice, then continue for as long as you like.
6. Resonant Frequency Breathing: For Self-Regulation
Each person has an optimal breathing rate known as their "resonant frequency" which best calms their nervous system, increases the tone of their vagus nerve, and optimizes their respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Though resonant frequency breathing ranges between three to seven breaths per minute, your resonant frequency is completely unique and can change over time. To find your own resonant frequency, you can download Flowly which uses real-time biofeedback to assess your current resonant frequency and applies it to breathwork sessions so that you can experience all of its benefits.
If you would like to practice resonant frequency breathing before finding your own optimal frequency with Flowly, follow these simple steps:
Inhale through your nose for 5 seconds
Exhale through your nose for 5 seconds
Repeat for a total of 6 rounds
Download Flowly to find your unique resonant frequency breathing rate!