Breathing Exercises to Calm the Mind

Lately, there seems to be lots of talk in the Universe of stress and anxiety. I am writing this during the CoronaVirus pandemic, and the world is a weird place right now. Our day-to-day lives are different than what we are used to, and we are experiencing changes.

Everyone responds to change differently, but for many people, it can cause feelings of worry and contribute to anxiety. To add insult to injury, we can’t do the things we typically do to calm ourselves down! Gyms, restaurants, social gatherings, etc are canceled or closed!

The good news is we can still practice self-care during this crazy time, such as taking a few moments to focus on our breath! Deep breathing exercises help to calm our mind by stimulating our parasympathetic nervous system, which is a fancy way of saying that it chills us out.

Activating this part of our nervous system causes our body to focus on decreasing blood pressure and slowing down heart rate (things that aim to decrease the overall stress levels we are experiencing). Plus, deep breathing is a great option because you can do at any time, from anywhere.

Table of Contents

Deep breathing exercises soothes the heart.

In full disclosure, I am not a medical professional, BUT I am experienced in the health and wellness field. I am excited to share with you some breathing techniques that will help you next time you are feeling stressed!

There are so many different breathing exercises/ techniques, but these are a few in particular that have stood out to me throughout my years in the wellness field. A couple of them may make you feel a little silly, but laughing at yourself a bit adds another level of stress-management, right?

Next time you are especially stressed or anxious, take a couple of minutes to sit still or lie down. Close your eyes (or not, but just a calming suggestion), and try these breathing exercises that can help you feel a bit better.

Find one (or a couple) that works for you, and store them away in your back pocket for later!

1. 7/11 Breathing Technique

The 7/11 breathing technique is probably the most straightforward concept on this list. It is based on the idea that the most calming part of a deep breath is the exhale – so it aims to give you a nice long exhale. For this technique you simply follow these steps:

  1. Breathe in slowly for a count of 7
  2. Breathe out slowly for a count of 11

It’s that easy! If the 7-11 counting doesn’t work for you, you can try something else like 5-8 or 3-5. Just make sure that your exhale is longer than your inhale. Don’t forget to truly count to yourself as you do this. The practice of counting during this exercise can distract your mind from whatever is stressing you out and help even more-so to calm you down.

2. Square Breathing

Also sometimes called box breathing, square breathing is another way to calm the mind during chaotic moments. This one aims to pace your breath and give it a rhythm that will help with those stress levels.

Here are your directions for this technique:

  1. Breathe in slowly for a count of 4
  2. Hold your breath at the “top of the square” with full lungs for a count of 4.
  3. Breathe out slowly for a count of 4
  4. Keep your lungs empty at the “bottom of the square” for a count of 4

If the count of 4 doesn’t quite work for you, try another number. Stay consistent and use the same number count for all 4 steps.

Personally, I recommend (literally) imagining a square here. As you breathe in, picture a dot moving up the side of the square. Hold your breath at the top. Now, picture the dot moving across the top of the square.

As you exhale, imagine the dot moving down the square. Lastly, as you keep your lungs empty, visualize the dot moving across the bottom of the square. This imagery can help you clear your mind and truly focus on just your breath.

3. Belly Breathing

Belly breathing is a super simple technique that can be very relaxing. This is also called “diaphragmatic breathing” because it uses our diaphragms. The diaphragm is a muscle in your abdomen that assists with breathing. Sometimes we forget to use it the way we should! By focusing on this breathing exercise, your breathing can become more effective. Which in turn, will have a greater impact on your parasympathetic system, thus calming you down. Here are your directions for this one:

  1. Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest
  2. Take a couple of breaths the same way you usually would. notice if your belly is rising with each inhale and falling with each exhale. 
  3. If you notice that your belly is remaining still and your chest is rising and falling instead, start focusing on only allowing your belly to move.
  4. Continue taking deep breaths for as long as you wish, while continuing to focus on only moving your belly.

In summary:

If you are utilizing your diaphragm while breathing, the belly should expand when you breathe in and fall when you breathe out. Regularly taking a couple of deep breaths like this to focus on that concept can help “train” you to breathe this way more naturally throughout your everyday life, so you’re helping out your current AND your future self!

4. Alternate Nostril Breathing

Okay, this is one where you might feel a little silly, but alternate nostril breathing is very helpful. It might take more effort when you begin, but once you get the hang of it, it will become effortless.

To be honest, there isn’t a ton of scientific research behind why this one works – but studies have shown that it helps activate that parasympathetic nervous system and decrease stress. In yoga, this one is thought to bring us harmony and balance

Now, on with the directions:

  1. Gently, place your right-handed thumb onto your right nostril, and place your right ring finger on your left nostril.
  2.  Gently close the right nostril with your thumb, and inhale slowly through the left nostril.
  3. Now, switch nostrils. Release the thumb on the right side, and close the left nostril with your ring finger. Exhale slowly through the right nostril.
  4. Keeping your fingers the way they are, inhale through the right nostril.
  5. Close your right nostril and allow your left nostril to open. Exhale through the left nostril.
  6. Continue this pattern as long as you wish

The pattern may seem wonky at first, but the more you do this the more natural it will feel!

5. Lion Breathing

This one is by far the silliest of all! However, if you let yourself get into it, lion breathing can be an awesome way to relieve stress (and provide you with amusement). The idea behind this one is that you forcefully release the tension on your exhale, as you roar like a lion. It also stretches the muscles of your face, which don’t usually get much attention

This one is often used in yoga classes and is traditionally done from a kneeling position with your knees on the ground, your feet tucked underneath you, your glutes resting on your feet, and your hands resting on your knees.  Here are your directions to roar like a lion!

  1. Get set upeither in the position as mentioned above or in any other position where you can sit up tall and rest comfortably.
  2. Inhale through your nose
  3. Forcefully exhale through the mouth. As you do so, open your mouth wide, stick your tongue out and down as far as possible toward your chin, and make a long “ha” sound. If you want to take it a step further, try to focus your energy on the tip of your nose or the center of your forehead while you do this.
  4. Return your face to its normal position as you take another inhale
  5. Repeat as long as you wish

Feeling silly yet? That’s okay! Embrace the silly. I like to use this one as a good way to “blow off some steam” when I’m stressed. By imagining that I’m letting go of negative energy as I forcefully exhale, I become calm.

The next time you need to clear your mind, try one or some of these breathing exercises and see which ones work for you! The world is kind of a scary and strange place right now, but we will get through this. One breath at a time.

Stay well, friends!

<3 Delaney

Meet the Author

Delaney Romero is a group fitness instructor, health and wellness coach, and a massage therapist. Join her as she guides you through steps to reach your Happy. Join her on her website www.joyfulbalance.life.

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The takeaway

Breathing exercises will allow you to find your center and help you meditate especially if you are new to meditating and practicing mindfulness.

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