5 Expert-Approved Breathing Exercises That Instantly Help Reduce Anxiety

"And breathe."
Low angle view of happy Asian woman in sportswear doing alternative nostril breathing exercise in the yoga studio.
miniseries via Getty Images
Low angle view of happy Asian woman in sportswear doing alternative nostril breathing exercise in the yoga studio.

Are you breathing properly right now? If you’re reading this I would assume you’re lungs are working and you are in fact breathing. But, did you know the way you breathe can affect your health?

1 in 5 of us struggle to get enough sleep, 74% of the nation feels stressed and breathing can minimise the amount of stress we experience. “We take over 20,000 breaths automatically a day, but breathing still doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves,” neuropsychologist Dr. Elisabeth Honinx from moonbird, says.

“From helping you sleep better to reducing feelings of depression or anxiety, breathing can be the secret to living a healthier, happier, and even longer life - you simply have to harness it.”

Dr. Honinx shares five breathing exercises that can help you harness the power of your breath and lead a happier, healthier life - from breathing ‘in a box’ to switching up nostrils. Here are 5 breathing exercises to help you improve your life.

4-7-8 breathing

“Not only can this technique help you sleep better, but according to a study from earlier this year, the 4-7-8 breathing exercise can help slow down your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and even reduce your blood sugar levels,” Honinx says.

“Find a quiet spot to sit down - you can sit cross-legged or even rest against a wall. Inhale through your nose for 4 counts, hold your breath for 7, then exhale through your mouth for 8. Repeat this for 5 minutes.”

Box breathing

“No, this technique doesn’t require you to sit in a box - instead, you follow a ‘squared’ breathing pattern that has been shown to be a great way to relax.”

Honinx continues: “sit up straight in a comfortable chair with your feet on the floor. Complete this cycle taking 4 seconds for each step: Inhale, hold your breath, exhale, hold your breath. Repeat for 4 minutes.”

Alternate nostril breathing

“This technique is as simple as it sounds but can have an amazing effect on your health, with one study finding it can improve your heart function and lower your blood pressure,” Honinx explains.

“Sit on a chair, the floor, or on the edge of your bed. Using your right thumb, close your right nostril while inhaling through the left. When you are ready to exhale, cover your left nostril instead and breathe out through your right. Inhale again, but through your right nostril, and then exhale through your left. Repeat this cycle for 5 minutes.”

Diaphragmatic breathing

“Diaphragmatic breathing is also called belly breathing, but you don’t want to focus on your stomach for this one. This deep breathing technique is especially effective, with studies revealing it may help in reducing stress, migraines and even help those struggling with eating disorders,” Honinx says.

“Sit down or lie on your back with one hand on your upper chest and another on your belly just below your ribcage - this is where your diaphragm is. Breathe in through your nose slowly while counting to 4, feeling your stomach pushing your hand out while the hand on your chest stays still.”

She adds: “hold your breath for 1 second before slowly exhaling through your mouth while counting to 4, engaging your abdominal muscles to help push the air out. Repeat for 5-10 minutes.”

Pursed lip breathing

“This simple breathing technique can help you breathe more intentionally, plus it has been shown to be beneficial to those with respiratory issues like COPD and asthma, so pucker up!”

“Find somewhere comfortable to sit, ensuring that your neck and shoulders stay relaxed. Inhale through your nose for a count of 2 before exhaling for 4. As you exhale, purse your lips as though you are gearing up for a kiss. Repeat for 5 minutes,” Honinx says.

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