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Breathing techniques may reduce stress and anxiety, help a person get to sleep, or support treatment for lung conditions. Some techniques work to give immediate relief. Others may work best with practice over time.
Simply paying more attention to the breath can have benefits for well-being. Most forms of meditation use breathing techniques to relax the body and calm the mind. Finding the right breathing technique and making it part of a routine can help a person experience the benefits.
In this article, we discuss some of the best and most useful breathing techniques and the conditions that they may help treat.
Breathing is a complex process involving the lungs, diaphragm, and intercostal muscles.
For a person to breathe in, the diaphragm and external intercostal muscles contract, increasing the space in the chest, which allows the lungs to fill with air. To breathe out, the diaphragm relaxes, and the internal intercostal muscles contract, causing the lungs to deflate and let the air out.
Some different breathing techniques that a person may wish to try include:
People living with lung conditions may wish to consider trying pursed lip breathing.
Pursed lip breathing can form part of a
Breathing techniques may help people with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). These conditions weaken the lungs and make it harder for a person to breathe out all of the stale air. With stale air taking up room in the lungs, the diaphragm cannot work properly.
Pursed lip breathing can help get the diaphragm working and increase the amount of oxygen entering the body. It keeps the airways open for longer than normal.
To perform pursed lip breathing, a person should:
- breathe in through the nose
- breathe out through the mouth with pursed lips
- make the breath out twice as long as the breath in
Diaphragmatic breathing, which some people refer to as belly breathing, can also be part of a pulmonary rehabilitation program. It can help strengthen the lungs and make them work more efficiently.
If the diaphragm is not working fully, the body will use other muscles for breathing, usually relying on those in the back, neck, or chest.
It is important to relax the neck and shoulders for this breathing technique, as this will make the diaphragm do more of the work of breathing. Performing this technique lying down may help a person focus on filling the lungs fully, as they can pay close attention to the belly rising and falling.
To perform diaphragmatic breathing, a person should:
- place the hands lightly on the belly
- breathe in through the nose until the belly rises
- breathe out through the mouth for twice as long
This technique requires a person to concentrate fully on the breath, using this focused attention as a form of
There are many different mindful breathing techniques. One simple one is to focus on the natural rhythm of breathing in and out, without trying to change it. Doing this may naturally slow down the breathing.
To perform mindful breathing, a person should:
- find a quiet place without distractions
- choose a comfortable position, ideally sitting or lying down
- focus on breathing by feeling and listening to the body inhale and exhale
- allow thoughts to pass through the mind without judgment
People may consider trying deep breathing for anxiety or stress.
Breathing deeply can be an effective way to deal with a stressful situation. Taking a deep, full breath can slow the heartbeat and make a person feel calmer.
To perform deep breathing, a person should:
- sit somewhere comfortable and consciously relax the shoulders
- inhale slowly, filling the lungs
- exhale slowly, emptying the lungs completely
It may help to count to four for each breath.
People may consider trying box breathing to relieve stress or boost concentration.
Box breathing, or square breathing, is a way to slow the breathing. It can help reduce stress, in addition to improving concentration and focus.
For the best results, people should sit upright in a comfortable chair. Sitting up straight makes it easier to breathe in and out fully. Resting the hands palm upward in the lap or on the knees can help the upper body stay relaxed.
To perform box breathing, a person should:
- breathe in through the nose for a count of four, filling the lungs
- hold the breath in the lungs for a count of four
- breathe out slowly through the mouth for a count of four, emptying the lungs fully
- wait for a count of four before breathing in again
People may consider trying alternate nostril breathing for anxiety or stress.
Alternate nostril breathing is a common part of yoga practice. Most people use one nostril more than the other without realizing it. This exercise can even out the breathing and help a person slow down the breath to reduce stress.
It is best to sit in a comfortable position on a chair or the floor for this exercise. A person should breathe out fully before beginning the breathing technique.
A person can perform alternate nostril breathing by following these steps:
- close the right nostril with the thumb of one hand
- breathe in through the left nostril
- close the left nostril with the fourth finger and release the thumb
- breathe out through the right nostril
- breathe in through the right nostril
- close the right nostril with the thumb and release the fourth finger
- breathe out through the left nostril
People may consider trying lion breathing for stress.
This exercise uses breathing along with face stretches to relieve stress and tension. Exhaling deeply can relax the muscles.
To perform lion breathing, a person should:
- breathe in deeply through the nose
- breathe out forcefully with the mouth open wide, sticking the tongue out
- roll the eyes upward while breathing out to stretch the face
Repeat the exercise three times for maximum benefit.
People may consider trying 4-7-8 breathing to aid sleep.
This exercise can help ease a busy mind before going to bed. Focusing on the breath and counting can distract from worries or stress as a person tries to fall asleep. This technique also helps breathing become more regular and can relax the body.
Before starting this exercise, people should rest the tip of the tongue against the roof of the mouth, try to relax the muscles, and breathe out fully through the mouth.
People can then perform the 4-7-8 breathing technique:
- breathe in through the nose for a count of four
- hold the breath for a count of seven
- part the lips and exhale loudly for a count of eight
Breathing techniques should never replace medical treatment. These exercises work best alongside other treatments.
Stress and anxiety can be different for everyone. Treatment may include therapy, medication, and mindfulness exercises. Breathing techniques may reduce stress in a difficult situation or help create a good routine for sleep.
Breathing exercises can help with a range of medical conditions, particularly stress and anxiety. They are most effective as part of a daily routine.
People can try breathing techniques for the first time when they are calm and breathing normally. They may find it beneficial to practice at the same time every day. Becoming familiar with a breathing exercise can take time.