At one point or another, we’ve all heard the saying “relax, take a deep breath” as a way to calm down, reduce stress or anxiety. Breathing exercises have long been used as part of stress reduction.
A focus on breath or various breathing techniques are part of stress reduction practices such as muscle relaxation, meditation, and yoga. Meditation allows the breath to slow down naturally by focusing attention on the breath during meditation.
Breathing exercises involve consciously controlling the rate, rhythm, and depth of breathing to reduce stress and increase parasympathetic nervous system activity which helps us relax.
An example of a simple breathing practice is coherent breathing which involves slowing one’s breathing to a rate of about 5 breaths per minute. It can be done sitting upright or lying down. It involves slowly, gently, breathing in through the nose and expanding the belly for six seconds, pausing and breathing out gently and smoothly for six seconds. This pattern is continued, working up to practicing for 10 to 20 minutes a day.
Breathing practices have numerous advantages for reducing stress and improving well-being: they can be integrated with other mind-body practices, can be integrated into conventional treatments to alleviate illness symptoms and support mental and physical health, generally don’t have side effects and do not interact with prescription medications and are affordable.
This total improvement of well-being has shown to help provide better quality sleep in many individuals.