Deep Breathing Techniques

Paula H. Cookson LCSW
Woman breathing deeply

Since breathing is automatic and you've got other things to focus on, you take it for granted. Everyone does. When stress and anxiety begin piling up in your life, your breathing can become shallow and may even progress into hyperventilation, which brings its own alarming set of physical and emotional symptoms. Thankfully, there are techniques for deep breathing that can reduce your stress level and improve your sense of wellbeing.

Basic Deep Breathing

If you are just learning deep breathing, it's best to begin with the basics.

  1. To begin, sit in a comfortable position.
  2. Inhale deeply through your nose for a count of five.
  3. Hold that breath for a count of five.
  4. Exhale through your mouth, as if blowing through a straw, for a count of five.

The video below demonstrates the basic technique of deep breathing and has a timer to help guide you. The video also mentions some of the physiological and emotional benefits of deep breathing, including decreased blood pressure.

Sympathetic Breathing

Sympathetic breathing is another basic technique you can use to achieve deep relaxation. This type of deep breathing relates naturally to the sympathetic nervous system and heart rate.

  1. To begin, relax your shoulders.
  2. Allow your breathing to become deep and slow.
  3. Relax each set of muscles in your body.
  4. Focus on relaxing your throat as you breathe in and out.
  5. Make sure you're breathing into your abdomen, not too deep and not too shallow; breathe normally, observing your breaths as they easily flow in and out.
  6. Notice the quickening of your heart on the in-breath and slowing of the heart on the out-breath, which is sympathetic breathing.
  7. Practice breathing in for five seconds and breathing out for five seconds, noticing the slowing and quickening of your body processes and heart rate. During this practice, focus on gratitude.

Square Breathing

There's another useful technique for deep breathing called square breathing which is also suitable for beginners. Taking consistently deep breaths in and out can help reduce stress quickly within the body as it regulates your breathing pattern, which in turn quiets the mind.

  1. To begin, breathe in for a count of four.
  2. Hold that breath for a count of four.
  3. Breathe out for a count of four.
  4. Hold the empty lungs for a count of four.
  5. Repeat several times.

This style of deep breathing will help you take evenly spaced breaths to reduce your stress.

4-7-8 Breathing

As you progress in your ability to relax using deep breathing, you may decide to use some additional techniques to enhance your relaxation. This breathing technique is a basic skill that will help reduce anxiety and panic. The simplicity of 4-7-8 breathing makes it accessible anywhere and any time. In this deep breathing sequence, your focus is on the counting.

  1. Begins with a complete exhalation of air from your lungs.
  2. Place the tip of your tongue behind your top front teeth on the roof of your mouth.
  3. Breathe in for a count of four through your nose.
  4. Hold for a count of seven.
  5. Breathe out for a count of eight, through your mouth.
  6. Repeat this pattern for several rounds.

This breathing sequence expels more oxygen than you are taking in, which encourages your body to enter a relaxed state conducive to stress relief and rest. The video demonstration by Dr. Andrew Weil explains the vast benefits of this style of breathing.

EFT Constricted Breathing

The Emotional Freedom Technique is used for many healing purposes, including deep breathing and relaxation. This style of deep breathing is a bit more advanced than the previous techniques discussed, and you will benefit from guided sessions until you become familiar with the practice, its core benefits, and specific "tapping" locations. Tapping acupuncture spots while using repeated focus thoughts, along with deep breathing sequences, offers you a physiological release that is unique, as demonstrated in this video.

  1. To begin, take as deep a breath as you can, hold it, and then slowly release it. Do this twice.
  2. Rate the range of your deep breath, from one to 10 (10 being the deepest breath possible).
  3. Now start by saying "this restricted breath" and begin tapping the back of your hand, below your pinky. Tap this area with 2-3 fingers with moderate intensity while you repeat the statement about your restricted breath.
  4. Continue onto the other acupuncture points such as your eyebrows, your cheek bones, below your nose and top of your head, all with the same tapping technique, using the same mantra which you will gradually change to reflect more open breaths as you near the end of the practice.

Kapalbhati Breathing

Kapalbhati breathing is an advanced form of deep breathing which is used in yoga. This practice differs significantly from the others in that it requires a brisk inhalation and exhalation of air through the nose while paying close attention to the rise and fall of the abdomen.

  1. To begin, exhale completely.
  2. Place your hand on your abdomen.
  3. Take a rapid breath in through the nose and forcefully exhale through the nose.
  4. Watch your hand on your abdomen to ensure that your abdomen extends when you breathe in and retracts when you breathe out.
  5. Continue inhaling and exhaling rapidly through the nose, paying close attention to your abdominal breathing as you go.
  6. Repeat this sequence for 25 breaths and then stop.
  7. Take some slow deep breaths in and out to finish.

The video below explains the physical and mental health benefits of this unique style of deep breathing. It also offers a helpful demonstration of how to do this technique since it's not a typical style of breathing that people engage in regularly unless they're taught the skill. While rather challenging initially, Kapalbhati breathing does offer clear relaxation benefits as well as physical health benefits.

Make the Most of Your Breaths

Deep breathing offers a simple, quick way to reduce your stress, improve your physical and mental health, and feel refreshed. It reduces your blood pressure, slows your heart rate and brings a sense of wellbeing to your mind and body. The best part is that it's free, and you can do it right now whether you're in the car, at work, or anywhere you happen to be. You're breathing anyway, right? So you might as well make the most of it and enjoy some additional benefits.

Deep Breathing Techniques