Breathing for relaxation and stress management

Stress is necessary for life, it helps us learn, be creative, and of course, is needed for survival. Stress is only harmful when it becomes overwhelming and interrupts the healthy state of equilibrium that our nervous system needs to remain in balance.

When stress overwhelms your nervous system our body is flooded with chemicals that prepare us for “fight or flight”. While the stress response can be lifesaving in emergency situations where we need to act quickly, it wears your body down when constantly activated by the stresses of everyday life.

The relaxation response puts the brakes on this heightened state of readiness and brings your body and mind back into a state of equilibrium. A variety of different techniques can help our nervous system back into balance by producing the relaxation response. The relaxation response is not just lying on the treatment couch or sleeping but a mentally active process that leaves the body relaxed, calm, and focused.

Learning the basics of these relaxation techniques isn’t difficult, but it does take practice. Most stress experts recommend setting aside at least 10 to 20 minutes a day for your relaxation practice. If that sounds like a daunting commitment, remember that many of these techniques can be incorporated into our existing daily schedule, and can be practised at your desk over lunch or during our daily commute.

Full deep breathing is a simple, yet powerful, relaxation technique to quiet the mind. It’s easy to learn, can be practised almost anywhere, and provides a quick way to get your stress levels in check. Deep breathing is the cornerstone of many other relaxation practices, too, and can be combined with other relaxing elements such as aromatherapy and music. All you need is a few minutes and a place to stretch out.

Practicing deep breathing

The key to breathing deeply from the abdomen, when you take deep breaths from the abdomen, rather than shallow breaths from your upper chest, you inhale more oxygen. The more oxygen you get, the less tense, short of breath, and anxious you feel.

Choose your position

Lie comfortably (on a matted floor or in bed) with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor straight. Put your hands on your belly or lower rib cage chest


  • Sit comfortably with your back straight with hand in the same position
  • Breathe in through your nose, with your stomach begin to notice the movement of your chest while your lower abdomen should rise.
  • Exhale through your mouth, gently pushing out as much air notice how your abdominal muscles help by contracting.
  • Keep your neck, jaw and shoulders relaxed; it sometimes helps to keep your lips gently closed with teeth slightly parted and tongue sitting up on the roof of the mouth.
  • Inhale for a count of 5 and exhale for a count of 6, the numbers don’t really matter as long as your out breath is longer than your in-breath and they are both slow and controlled.
  • Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls.
  • Imagine that the breath reaches all the way down to your toes (all of them) and that the out breath passes out from the crown of your head like a stream of chimney smoke.


  • Stop if you feel unwell or light-headed remember to keep your breaths slow.
  • It helps to do this at the same time of day
  • Aim to practice 6 days out of 7
  • It just takes a few weeks for this to become habitual, and some habits are beneficial.
  • Take your time, your mind will probably be filled with a rush of monkey-mind thoughts, lists, etc. but try to keep your focus on the breath and what you feel in your body.
  • When you have finished, get up slowly if you have been lying down, or better still snuggle under your duvet and go to sleep.

Please note: This is for guidance only, it should not be regarded as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment given in person by an appropriately trained health professional


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