Article at a Glance:
- The way you breathe impacts your mood, mental state, and stress level because of the impact breath has on your autonomic nervous system.
- If you use breathwork to activate the parasympathetic branch of your autonomic nervous system, it will make you feel more relaxed.
- Box breathing, 4-7-8 breathing, and breathing with gratitude are great breathing exercises to promote peace and relieve stress.
- If you want to cultivate more peace and clarity in your life, it’s important to practice at least 10 minutes of breathwork per day.
The holiday season is one of the most exciting and joyful times of year for many people. But it can also be one of the most stressful. With all the gift buying, entertaining, and party invites on your calendar, your already busy schedule can get so packed that you don’t feel like you have a second to breathe.
But it’s the times in life when you feel like you don’t have a second to breathe that you need to focus more attention on just that— breathing.
Your breath impacts your mood, mental state, and stress level more than you may realize. And a bit of conscious breathing this time of year could make your holiday more holly, jolly, and joyful like it’s meant to be.
Why Breathing Exercises Relieve Stress
Meditation and Breathwork Teacher Ryan Bean is a firm believer in using breathing exercises to transform your inner state.
“Breathwork really builds the willpower and mindset to say, ‘I’m not going to accept this as my fate. I’m going to be my own healer and leader and use the intelligence within to change how I feel,’” said Bean.
According to Bean, breathwork allows you to shift your mood and mental state because of the impact your breath has on your autonomic nervous system (ANS), a part of your peripheral nervous system that automatically regulates organ function and critical bodily processes (like your heart rate, digestion, and immune function).
Your ANS has two branches: the sympathetic branch and the parasympathetic branch. The sympathetic branch triggers your fight or flight response. That’s the part that’s active when you’re feeling excitable or stressed. The parasympathetic branch triggers your rest and digest response. That’s the part that’s active when you’re feeling peaceful and relaxed.
Your autonomic nervous system takes cues from you and how you’re responding to what’s happening in your environment. And you can easily activate either branch through the way you’re breathing— including the parasympathetic branch to promote that calming rest and digest state when you need it.
“Through just a few minutes of breathwork, you can make an amazing investment in your own mental health and clarity,” said Bean.
The Best Breathing Exercises for Relieving Stress
If you’re looking to activate your parasympathetic nervous system to promote a peaceful, relaxed feeling, Bean has a few tried and true breathwork practices that can help.
1. Box Breathing
Box breathing is a breathing exercise that can steady your nerves and put you in a calm state. It can also improve concentration, and it’s even used by athletes and the U.S. Navy (Bean himself used it while he was in the Navy). One of the greatest advantages to box breathing is that it’s very easy to remember and practice whenever you need it. Here’s how to get started:
- Inhale deeply through your nose for a slow count of four.
- Hold your breath for a slow count of four.
- Exhale deeply through your nose for a slow count of four.
- Hold your breath for a slow count of four.
- Continue for five to ten minutes (or however long you need to feel relaxed).
By practicing box breathing, you slow down your breathing quite a bit. Bean says most people take 15 breaths per minute on average. With box breathing, you bring that average down to three deep, long breaths per minute, which is why it’s so calming and centering.
2. 4-7-8 Breathing
Bean also recommends 4-7-8 breathing. It’s one of the most popular breathing exercises for relaxation, and it’s almost as easy to remember as box breathing. Here’s how to practice it:
- Breathe in through your nose for a count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale through your mouth for a count of eight while you make a light whoosh sound.
- Continue for five to ten minutes (or however long feels nice and relaxing to you).
Bean says this breathing exercise is particularly powerful for relaxation and is a fantastic one to use while you’re sitting at a desk, walking, or even if you have insomnia.
“This breath really slows everything down and brings you into that peaceful state,” said Bean. “It’s a great way to move back into that rest and digest state rather than fight or flight.”
3. Morning Gratitude Breathing
A morning gratitude practice is perfect for you if you’re ready to be proactive with your breathwork practice and start every day with a feeling of peace and gratitude, according to Bean. Here’s how to start every morning in a peaceful place:
- Take a few moments to sit in bed after you wake up.
- Breathe in deeply through your nose, fill your belly, expand your diaphragm, and then slowly release.
- As you release your breath, think of one thing you’re grateful for (your pillow, your comfy bed, your dog, etc.)
- Repeat the practice again, choosing a different thing you’re grateful for as you release each breath.
- Continue for at least five minutes or until you feel ready to stop.
Taking Your Breathwork to the Next Level
If you want to take your breathwork practice to the next level, Bean recommends a few sources for breathwork instruction that can help you go deeper into breathwork and reap even more benefits.
His favorite breathwork teacher for online tutorials and instruction is Jesse Coomer. Bean himself also offers online instruction on the app Insight Timer (just search for Ryan Bean) and his social media accounts, as well as in-person retreats for those who are interested in practicing breathwork with other folks IRL.
However you choose to continue your breathwork practice, though, Bean recommends committing to at least 10 minutes of breathwork each day so you can truly feel the transformative benefits.
“Breathwork is a way to heal. It’s a way to go deep into a space of peace, clarity, and humbleness,” said Bean. “But a full breathwork practice to find that peace and clarity should be at least 10 minutes or more every day if you can.”
Overview of the Autonomic Nervous System— Merck Manual.
How to use 4-7-8 breathing for anxiety— Medical News Today.
What is box breathing?— Medical News Today.