We hear it all day, every day, “I’m so stressed out. I don’t know what to do.” As Thriving Practitioners and Individuals it’s handy to have some great, effective techniques in our pockets both for those we work with and ourselves we work with. Finally gaining a foothold of acceptance in popular culture is teaching and using breathing exercises.  Anyone who has taken just one yoga class will recognize the art of breathing. These are simple, easy to teach, easy to use skills for everyone. Recently, after teaching a client how to take the time to lower her anxiety she returned to me and said, “Wow, I didn’t think it would work but it really does!”

In an interview with National Public Radio in 2010 Esther Sternberg, MD, explained that rapid breathing is a function of the sympathetic nervous system which is a part of the ‘fight or flight’ response of our bodies have hard wired into our brains.  This particular part of our brain is activated by stress. The more we can learn to control not only our level of stress but also our response to it, the more overall calm we can bring to our experience of the world around us.

Sternberg goes on to explain how slow, deep breathing stimulates the opposite reaction in our bodies, known as the parasympathetic reaction and in turn this can calm us down.  The science shows us that breathing exercises can quickly begin to change the physiology of our bodies by altering the pH of the blood or shifting our blood pressure. Breathing can be used to help calm anxiety, manage pain, and shift our focus. Even those with asthma, COPD and others who struggle with respiration issues can use these techniques, keeping in mind they can adapt them to their ability and comfort.

As with any other skill, the more you practice the easier it is to use these techniques in moments of greater stress or pain. If you start off by practicing for even 5 minutes, two or three times a day, I bet you’ll find yourself using these more frequently sooner rather than later.

Here’s my favorite ‘easy-peasy’ method to lower your blood pressure, reduce your overall anxiety level and take a quick moment for yourself:

Picture your lungs as big sacs (which they are), extending all the way down to your belly button. As you slowly draw your breath in through your nose picture dropping the air all the way down to the bottom of the sac and filling it up from the bottom…you can count if you’d like, or just simply draw your breath in. Once filled allow the air to sit for a moment while you perhaps count again to 5 or 10 and then slowly let it out, again all the way to the bottom of the sac this time, exhaling through your mouth this time.  If you find your thoughts drifting here, there and everywhere don’t worry; just let yourself drift back to the breathing.

Here’s another technique from an article in Time magazine, “6 Breathing Exercises to Relax in 10 Minutes or Less” By Jordan Shakeshaft | Greatist.com Oct. 08, 2012

Progressive Relaxation:

How it’s done: To nix tension from head to toe, close the eyes and focus on tensing and relaxing each muscle group for two to three seconds each. Start with the feet and toes, then move up to the knees, thighs, rear, chest, arms, hands, neck, jaw and eyes — all while maintaining deep, slow breaths. Having trouble staying on track? Anxiety and panic specialist Dr. Patricia Farrell suggests we breathe in through the nose, hold for a count of five while the muscles tense, then breathe out through the mouth on release.

When it works best: At home, at a desk or even on the road. One word of caution: Dizziness is never the goal. If holding the breath ever feels uncomfortable, tone it down to just a few seconds at most.

Level of difficulty: Beginner

Here’s healthy, happy breathing to you!