The simple breathing exercise you can practice anywhere

The simple breathing exercise you can practice anywhere

Are you nervous before a presentation? Are you feeling upset but need to stay calm? Are you having difficulty concentrating due to stress, feeling sweaty or having a rapid heart rate? Does it feel hard to relax after a long day? Whatever the circumstance and wherever you are, it only takes as little as 3 minutes of controlled breathing for you to feel calmer and be able to carry on.

Controlled breathing may be the most powerful tool we have to prevent our brain from keeping us in a state of stress, thus preventing subsequent negative effects due to high stress levels.

How does it work? Although there are several breathing exercises one can use, the common mechanism is more or less the same. Breathing exercises reduce emotional arousal and stress by activating the parasympathetic nervous system (the one that slows down many physical functions and relaxes the body) while turning down the sympathetic nervous system (the one that prepares the body for physical activity and quick responses). This reduces the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, and lowers the heart rate and blood pressure. Deep breathing also aims at full oxygen exchange; more oxygen enters the body and more carbon dioxide exits.

Here’s a simple breathing exercise you can use anywhere:

  • Get comfortable, either sitting or standing; let your shoulders and the muscles of your upper body relax.
  • Place the one hand on the chest and the other on the abdomen. Let your hands be your guide; to maximize oxygen intake you need to notice your abdomen -and not your chest- inflating and deflating as you breathe in and out.
  • Take a deep breath in through the nose counting to 5.
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth counting to 7. Exhaling for a longer time than inhaling is very important. The goal is to slow down your breathing to an average of 5 to 6 breath cycles per minute.
  • As you get familiar with the exercise, you may want to try pairing a thought with your exhaling. For instance, while you breathe out slowly you might repeat to yourself statements such as: “It will pass”, “I can make it”, “I have control over the situation”, “I will manage, whatever happens” and so on, depending on the situation you are in. Pairing the breathing with effective self-statements adds to the breathing effectiveness and increases the positive outcomes.
  • Repeat for a minimum of 10 times. 3 to 5 minutes of deep controlled breathing would be the optimal exercise.

Mastering the breathing exercise might take some time. If you consistently practice it, you will soon notice an increase in its effectiveness. At some stage you will also notice that practicing it will come naturally when needed, without you having to make any effort whatsoever.