What are some breathing exercises to help relax?

Mosaraf Ali, MD
Integrative Medicine

One of the best ways to relax is by focusing on something you've been doing since the day you were born -- breathing. In this video, integrative medicine expert and Dr. Oz Show guest Mosaraf Ali demonstrates a few easy breathing exercises that will help de-stress and relax.

Janet Tsai
Alternative & Complementary Medicine

One of the easiest ways to feel more relaxed and less stressed is by doing breathing exercises. To learn how to do one simple relaxation breathing routine, watch this video featuring Chinese medicine expert and Dr. Oz guest Janet Tsai.

To experiment with the exercises, sit in a chair with your back comfortably upright, feet on the floor, shoulders down, chest open, and hands resting in your lap. Let your abdomen expand on each inhale and contract with every exhalation. You may want to close your eyes and really focus on your breaths as you do this. Many of us breathe shallowly throughout the day without even realizing it. As we run around on autopilot, filled with mental tension, we tend to cut our breaths short, and even hold in our bellies and restrict the flow of oxygen. You will notice a difference once you pay attention to the movement of your diaphragm and the expansion of your chest. Let everything relax, including your stomach. As you inhale, you should feel your belly and ribs expanding, and then as you exhale, you’ll feel them collapsing.

Let it all out. Take a deep breath through your nose and let it out easily through your mouth. At the end of the exhalation, silently repeat, “la-lala-la-laaah,” which effortlessly extends it, releasing more air from your lungs. Feel your abdomen inflate with the next inhale. Do five times.

Take a pause. Inhale and exhale through your nose, mentally counting, “in-two-three, out-two-three,” and then “pause-two-three.” During the pause, don’t breathe in or out; just rest comfortably. Do five times. Over time, increase the count to 4 (“in-two-three-four, out-two-three-four”), then to five, until you reach a number that’s comfortable to you.

Hold it. This technique can help you dial down a stressful reaction to upsetting news, and it help you fall asleep, too. It takes a little practice, but people who use it swear by it. It’s a favorite of health guru Andrew Weil, MD, who calls it the “four:seven:eight breath.” 

  • Place the tip of your tongue just behind your upper front teeth; let it rest there gently for the entire exercise.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, letting the air make a whooshing sound as it passes out.
  • Close your mouth and inhale through your nose as you mentally count to four. Let the breath fill and expand your abdomen as you inhale, then hold your breath for a count of seven.

Exhale through your mouth with a whoosh to a count of eight. That’s one complete four:seven:eight breath. Do 4 times.

From The Mind-Beauty Connection: 9 Days to Less Stress, Gorgeous Skin, and a Whole New You by Amy Wechsler.

Mike Luque

As with most things... start at the beginning.

When it comes to breathing, the beginning is learning how to properly engage your diaphragm when breathing.

Aside from the obvious benefit of taking the time to sit and focus on breathing, which will be relaxing in itself, there are also physiologic changes that proper diaphragmic breathing will affect in the body which will have a lasting impact on your ability to relax.

Primary among these is blood pressure. The diaphragm is a large sheet muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. Anything (aside from spinal nerves) that has to go from one cavity to the other has to pass through the diaphragm. This includes the superior vena cava, the primary source of blood flow from your lower body back to your heart. As you breathe properly using your diaphragm, the descending motion of the diaphragm pulls downward and outward on the vena cava. All tissues respond to the forces placed on them. Continuously practiced diaphragmic breathing will eventually cause a corresponding increase in the diameter of the vena cava. When the diameter of a “pipe” (the vena cava can be thought of as a pipe for your blood, right?) is increased, if the same amount of fluid is passing through it, the pressure in the pipe decreases. In terms of your body, this means a decrease in blood pressure. This is a physiological and permanent response. Well, permanent so long as you continue to breathe correctly!

Here's how to get started with proper diaphragmic breathing:

Deep breathing is a good way to relax. Try it a couple of times every day. Here's how to do it.
  • Lie down or sit in a chair.
  • Rest your hands on your stomach.
  • Slowly count to four and inhale through your nose.
  • Feel your stomach rise.
  • Hold it for a second.
  • Slowly count to four while you exhale through your mouth. To control how fast you exhale, purse your lips like you're going to whistle.
  • Your stomach will slowly fall.
Repeat five to 10 times.

This information is based on source information from the National Women's Health Information Center.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.