Hi there, precious readers.

If you’ve had a couple of stressful days or feel like that one nagging worry is not letting you sleep, then this one’s for you. From bettering your endurance during sports activities to improving your energy levels when you feel sluggish, breathwork can help you immensely.

So let’s begin with a short activity. Relax, loosen your body and try the following:

Take a deep breath through your nose for a count of four, hold it for another count of four and then exhale for a count of four. In each of these stages, focus on your breath filling your lungs, flowing through your body and finally, being pushed out gently. Try this 2-3 times.

Voilà, you just tried the ‘Box Breathing’ technique, which is one of the best ways to keep calm and focus during high-stress situations. There are various other similar methods that you can use in your wellness journey. These can help you in reducing stress and anxiety, managing anger, improving focus, aiding sleep, regulating heart rate, and more. When practiced with the right technique and supervision in some cases, these exercises can go a long way. Welcome to the treasure trove of your holistic wellness journey! Here are 5 breathwork exercises for a relaxed mind and body:

1. Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing

A girl perform belly breathing

Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing is a breathwork exercise that puts emphasis on the use of the diaphragm muscle to regulate the breath. It is also called as ‘Belly Breathing’ or ‘Abdominal Breathing’. Habitually, we use chest muscles and take a shallower breath. Using this technique, when we breathe in, the diaphragm muscle contracts, thus, causing the abdomen to move down and allowing the lungs to get filled with air. In this breathing exercise, the focus is on inhaling through the nose and feeling the breath expand the abdomen.

It helps in reducing emotions of stress and agitation while calming the body. It also strengthens the diaphragm muscles and improves lung function.

  • Start by finding a comfortable position. Sit or lie down on your back such that you have a straight posture.
  • Place one hand on your chest and the other hand on the belly. This is to observe your breath and ensure that you are using the diaphragm muscle to breathe.
  • Take a slow, deep breath through your nose. As you breathe in, notice the air filling your lungs and pushing your belly out. Observe the hand over the belly rise and try to keep the chest still.
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth. Make sure to breathe out fully and empty your lungs while trying to keep your chest still. Monitor the hand over your belly as it moves inward.
  • Repeat the process. Continue to inhale and exhale, focusing on the movement of your diaphragm muscle and the sensation of air moving in and out of your body. Try to breathe in a slow and steady rhythm while avoiding any kind of strain.

2. Box Breathing

A man performing box breathing breathwork

Box Breathing also known as ‘Square Breathing’ is a breathwork technique that incorporates inhaling, holding the breath, exhaling, and again holding the breath for equal intervals of time (typically a count of 4). This method emphasizes on being mindful of the rhythm of the breath. It is one of the techniques to activate the parasympathetic nervous system to reduce stress and promote a sense of calm and relaxation.

  • Find a comfortable and quiet place to sit or lie down.
  • Take a deep, slow breath through your nose for a specific duration. A count of four seconds can be a good starting point.
  • Next, hold your breath for a count of four seconds.
  • Now, exhale through your mouth for a count of another four seconds. Remember, here you should exhale slowly and through your mouth rather than your nose.
  • Post exhaling, again hold your breath again, for a count of four seconds.
  • Repeat this pattern for several minutes, focusing on the sensation of your breath and the rhythm of the pattern. Try to be mindful of each breath taken and the rhythm of the breath.

3. Alternate Nostril Breathing

A man and a woman performing alternate nostril breathwork exercise

The Alternate Nostril Breathing technique or ‘Nadi Shodhana Pranayam‘ is a breathwork exercise that focuses on balancing the body and calming the mind. A Sanskrit term, Nadi Shodhana means cleansing or purification of energy channels. These channels are the conduits through which the life force energy or prana or chi is said to flow. Purification of these channels helps promote a sense of balance in the body.

This breathing exercise is often used as a preparation for meditation. Alternate nostril breathing is a slow breathing method that activates the vagus nerve, thus, combating the stress response of the body and regulating the blood pressure.

  • Sit comfortably with shoulders relaxed and in an erect posture. You can sit cross-legged or on a chair.
  • Place your left hand on your left knee with the palm facing up.
  • Hold your right hand in front of your face such that the index finger and middle finger are between the eyebrows. The thumb should be hovering over the right nostril while the ring finger and little finger should be close to the left nostril.
  • One round of Nadi Shodhana consists of inhaling and exhaling through both nostrils alternately. Begin by pressing the thumb down on the right nostril and letting out any air inside the lungs through the left nostril.
  • With the thumb pressing down the right nostril, inhale deeply through the left nostril. After breathing in, press down the left nostril using the ring and little finger while gently releasing the right nostril.
  • Exhale through the right nostril now.
  • Now, inhale through the right nostril, close it using the thumb, gently release the left nostril and exhale.
  • This completes one round of the breathing exercise. Repeat the exercise for a few minutes.
  • To finish, breathe in and breathe out deeply through both nostrils.

One should start gradually with 2-3 minutes and should ensure that there is no unnecessary strain on the lungs.

4. 4-7-8 Breathing

A man performing breathwork exercise

4-7-8 Breathing is a breathwork technique that focuses on deep inhalation and thorough exhalation of breath to activate the parasympathetic nervous system in the body. With active counts involved, this exercise directs the focus of the practitioner towards the rhythm of breath, hence, emphasizing on mindfulness and making the experience meditative.

  • Begin by exhaling any air in the body through the mouth.
  • Inhale deeply through your nose for a mental count of four. Feel the sensation of breath flowing in the body.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven. During this time, feel the air occupying your lungs.
  • Exhale thoroughly and with force, through your mouth for a count of eight. Typically, such letting out of breath causes a whooshing sound.
  • This completes one cycle of breathing.
  • Repeat the process for a few more cycles.

Try to keep the breath steady throughout the exercise and focus on the sensation caused by the air during inhaling, holding and exhaling the breath.

5. Ujjayi Pranayama – The Victorious Breath

A girl meditating on the rocks by the ocean

Ujjayi Pranayama, also referred to as ‘The Victorious Breath’ and ‘The Ocean Breath’ is a breathwork technique that focuses on slowing down the breath. It relaxes the body through deep and smooth breaths through the nose while keeping the throat slightly constrained. The technique is called Victorious Breath as the process involves expanding the chest and belly, which somewhat resembles a warrior’s victory pose. Keeping the throat constrained and only breathing through the nose creates a typical whooshing sound that bears resemblance to the waves of the ocean, hence, earning the name Ocean Breath.

This breathwork exercise promotes mental clarity and focus while calming the body. It promotes sound sleep and with enough practice, it can aid in controlling snoring. It is also often used in conjugation with various meditation and yoga practices like Hatha Yoga.

  • Sit in a comfortable position with your back upright.
  • In this exercise, breathing will take place through the nose. So ensure that the lips are gently closed.
  • Close your eyes and take a deep and smooth breath through your nose, allowing the air to fill your lungs. Visualize the breath reaching all the cells of the body.
  • Now, exhale the breath through your nose, while keeping the back of the throat slightly constricted. Ensure that the throat is not strained. This will create a sound like a hiss.
  • This completes one cycle of the Ujjayi Breathing method. Repeat this a few times and practice regularly for a calm mind yet warrior-like composition.

While practicing Ujjayi, ensure that the throat is comfortable. This exercise can be avoided in case of sore throat or throat infection.

Breathwork is a great tool to help you calm down and relax by regulating your breath and activating the parasympathetic system while combating the “fight and flight” stress response of the body. That being said, it is not a replacement of physical or mental therapy but something that you can add to your daily routine for living holistically.