How to Use Your Breath to Release Stress


Approximately how long can we go without food? 30 days or so. How long can we go without water? Around 3 days. How long can we go without air before risking brain damage? About 3 minutes.  

On a fundamental level, this outlines something we all know: Breathing is important. And not just any old breathing. I’m talking about big, full, down-to-your-stomach-deep breathing that can help you relax and destress.

It sounds easy enough, but you’d be amazed how many people do not breathe correctly throughout the day, and are reluctant to spend a just a little bit of time focusing on it. We’re all so busy that it seems like no one has the time to sit still. That’s why I recommend starting slow when it comes to developing a good, deep-breathing technique.

How to Practice Deep Breathing

Sit or lie down, whichever is more comfortable, and begin to draw in air through your nose. Visualize it filling your body—from your expanding lungs to your pelvic floor. Release that breath by exhaling through your mouth with a gentle roar. The sound you push out with your breath should come from low in your diaphragm and have a deep vibrational sound, not a high, pitchy exhale that occurs when you only draw and release air from your chest.

I also like to change things up and inhale and exhale from my mouth. When you inhale, think about drawing the air in as if you are sipping from a big bowl—really pull that air deep from within your lower abs.

Start by doing one set of thirty breaths. Before your last breath, exhale and hold your breath for 30 seconds to a minute, inhale, hold that breath for 15 seconds, then open your mouth, relax your tongue and exhale. Continue to breath like this for two more sets of thirty breaths, holding the final exhale and inhale of each rep.

As you progress or find a little extra time, work your way up to 50-breath sets.

Deep Breathing Tips

Don’t worry if your mind wanders or the practice feels unnatural at first; that’s really common. Instead, try these tips and tricks. They work for me when I need a little something extra to stay engaged and motivated.

Think of your favorite color. Now imagine that the air you’re breathing is that color as it travels to all the tissue in your body. Pulling the color to your brain, fingertips, and toes.

Recruit your spine. If you choose to lie down, you will feel your spine moving up and down with each inhale and exhale, towards and away from the floor. Imagine it is a pump pulling the air in. If you choose to sit, then attempt to draw the air deep into your lower back. Remember, deep breathing is dynamic, not passive.

Focus on refocusing. Feeling distracted? That’s ok just keep at it. Sometimes I count breaths to distract me or direct my attention to my third eye, or the center of my brow, if my mind is really struggling to settle.

Consciously release stress. While holding your breath, see if you can slip into a deep relaxation. Notice if you are carrying any tension in your jaw, shoulders, or forehead, and then just let it go. I imagine myself to be like a puddle on the floor with my clothes sitting in it. Just get liquid.

If you need a reminder to practice or feel like you need a little extra guidance, the Relax function on the Fitbit Blaze and Fitbit Charge 2 can lead you through a quick and effective guided deep-breathing session. Both the two- and five-minute sessions will help you relax right away.

Remember deep breathing is something you can do anywhere, anytime, for free. I think you’ll be amazed what a difference it can make in your day.

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  • I totally connect with this and realize that it’s only when I bring my focus back to my breathing consistently that I begin to feel more balanced in my life. While I don’t practice Vipassana meditation like I used to I’m reminded that even a small amount of daily focus on deep breathing makes a huge difference.

    I know that many of the counsellors on the site that I developed also strongly emphasize the importance of this.

  • Ram Dass (formerly Richard Alpert) in his “Love, Serve, Remember” recommended visualizing a parking lot attendant who just watches the cars arriving and leaving. Like that person we watch the breath arrive through the right nostril and depart through the left, and that’s all.

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