Three Breathing Exercises for Releasing Stress and Anxiety

by | Apr 8, 2021 | Emotional Health, Self Awareness, Self Care

Stress and anxiety are physiological reactions to the thoughts in your head. Yes, for real! Changing your thoughts is a topic for another post. But when your situation and your thoughts result in big bad feels, focusing on your breath will help. Each of these breathing exercises addresses a different problem with a different approach. There’s at least one in here for you!

Do you remember the point at which everything changed for you? The “Aha!” moment or turning point that put you on the spiritual healing journey you’re now on? Although there’s probably been many of these turning points for most of us, there is one recent moment that specifically stands out in my mind.

The moment I learned how to breathe properly.

“Breathing properly” seems like a silly concept. You can’t teach your heart to beat properly, or your brain to think properly, so how can your lungs be any different?

The reality is that the vast majority of us have forgotten how to breath by the time we’re young adults. When we were babies, we knew how to do it naturally – but these days, many of us are so caught up in stress, overwhelm, and anxiety all the time, that breathing becomes too shallow, too short, and stunted.

Take a second before reading any further to observe your own breath. Without changing it at all, notice how it feels physically in your body. Are your inhales and exhales equal and complete? Or is one longer than the other? On your inhale, do you feel most of your breath expanding your belly, your chest, or both? Without judging, simply take note.

If you find that you’re a shallow breather, or that you feel stressed out, overwhelmed, and anxious a lot of the time, breathwork is going to become your new best friend.

But first, from now on I want you to become a careful observer of your breath. Remind yourself every chance you get to notice your breath and make sure you’re taking deep, full, belly breaths. If you notice you’re breathing shallow in your chest, take a moment to shift your breath deeper into your belly.

Aside from learning how to breathe properly again, you can use specific breathing techniques to really help calm the nervous system quickly, to release tension, and find peace in body and mind.

Below are my three favourite breathing techniques that you can do anywhere, at any time to release stress and calm anxiety. Try incorporating these everyday for 1 week, and your life will change. Seriously.

I love breathwork because it’s not as intimidating as meditation—there’s no pressure to clear your mind, you don’t have to have your eyes closed to do it, and it only takes a few minutes to go from bugging out to blissed out.

mediterranean diet
Here are the techniques:

Release tension and stress instantly with bumblebee breath

This was the very first breathing technique I ever learned, when I was around 12 years old and having difficulty sleeping (a life-long thing for me 🙄). My mother took me to a naturopathic doctor that taught me to do this breath every evening before getting into bed, and I still practise it to this day (15 years later!)

Here’s how to do it: 

1. Find a comfortable position either seated or lying down

2. Bring your focus to your breath and begin breathing deeper into your belly for about 3-5 breaths, making sure you’re breathing through your nose

3. On your next inhale, expand deep into your belly and as you exhale, while still keeping your lips closed, hum (like you’re imitating a bee) until your  breath is completely exhaled

4. Repeat step 3 for at least 10 times, remembering to continue to breathe deep, in and out through the nose, and releasing the breath fully on the exhale.

As you do this breathing technique, you can bring your awareness into your physical body. If you notice any areas of tension, placing both palms (one resting on top of the other) on the area and directing your bumblebee breath to this area can help to dissolve that tension. It feels really good.

I love to do this breathing technique when I’m feeling tense or triggered or if I need some help calming down my nervous system before bedtime. Yes, it feels a little funny when you first start it, but I promise you it’s worth it. Playing relaxing music while you breathe like this can make it extra soothing.

Start with 10 breaths to begin with, and continue for as long as you’d like. An added bonus of humming is that it tones your vagus nerve, which you can read more about in this blog post.

Quiet racing thoughts and fall asleep faster with 4-7-8 breath

During a more recent period of insomnia, when no matter what I tried I couldn’t seem to quiet my racing thoughts, this breathing technique became my best friend. Without it, I would feel tired and wired in the night, barely able to keep my eyes open but like someone turned on all the lights in the home of my mind.

This technique instantly quiets the mind. If you deal with racing thoughts, constant rumination of the past, or if you’re always worrying about future events, you’ll love this technique too.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Find a comfortable position either seated or lying down

2. Bring your focus to your breath and begin breathing deeper into your belly for about 3-5 breaths, making sure you’re breathing through your nose (all breathwork begins by bringing the awareness to the breath)

3. When you’re ready, inhale through your nose swiftly to a count of four.

4. Hold your breath with lungs expanded for a count of seven.

5. And exhale slowly through pursed lips (like you’re blowing through a straw) for a count of 8.

6. Repeat steps 3 to 5 for four breaths to begin with. You’ll feel calmer almost instantly. Then you can go back to breathing natural deep breaths again, or repeat as necessary.

When you first start practising 4-7-8 breath, you may find yourself a little light-headed. That’s why four rounds is the perfect amount of time to start with. Eventually, you can add on until you’re doing 10 rounds, then timing yourself to continue for five to ten minutes. We’re all different, so go for the amount of time that is best for you.

Calm anxiety and feel gratitude with heart-focused breath

While the other two breathing techniques are amazing for releasing the day and getting ready for a relaxing evening, or preparing the body and mind for a restful sleep, this one is my favourite to do throughout the day at any time I’m feeling overwhelmed, or my anxious thoughts are racing. You can also do this technique anytime you feel triggered, annoyed, or angry.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Find a comfortable seat

2. Bring your focus to your breath and begin breathing deeper into your belly for about 3-5 breaths, making sure you’re breathing through your nose

3. Bring your hands to rest on your heart centre (or if you’re in public and don’t want to do this, simply bring your awareness to your heart centre)

4. As you continue to breathe deep belly breaths, imagine that your breath is actually moving in and out from your heart-space. Visualization can be helpful here: you can imagine a glowing light or fire in the heart-space, gradually growing with each cycle of breath.

5. Continue like this for as long as you need, until tension and anxiety is released or thoughts are calmed down.

To supercharge this breathing technique, hold the memory of someone or something dear to you in your heart. Keep your awareness on this person, thing, memory, or event that brings you joy and feel a deep gratitude as you continue your heart breathing.

Eventually you’ll notice the overwhelm and anxiety slowly dissipate, and begin to feel a lot more manageable than before.

mediterranean diet
There you have it! I hope these techniques are as healing for you as they have been for me. Remember: learning how to breathe properly again is one of the absolute best ways to support your body, mind, and soul healing journey.

The awesome thing about it is you’re never not breathing, which means you have thousands of opportunities every single day to practise and feel better 😌.

For similar topics, check out these blog posts:

4 Ways to Incorporate Grounding into Your Daily Routine – Grounding is another way to help reduce stress and anxiety!

Did You Know Anxiety is Actually Contagious? – Read for more tips to tone the vagus nerve and increase resilience to stress.

Super Simple Nutrition Series Part 3 – the Top 3 Lifestyle Hacks – Number two is heart-brain coherence, one of the best ways to increase stress resilience. Check it out!

Self Care Routine

Your very own self care routine is just 10 minutes away!