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The internet is awash with quotable quotes reminding you to breathe deeply whenever there is any form of worry or stress in your life. And with good reason: it can really calm the nerves and make you feel better instantly.

Breathing is as natural a function of the body as any. And it is a big help in easing the levels of stress or anxiety: there is a distinct difference between the breathing of a person when he/she is completely at peace and relaxed, compared to someone who is tense or going through some kind of strife.

Deep breathing is one of the better ways to reduce stress in the body as it signals the brain to calm down and relax, which in turn sends the same message to the rest of your body. If you are breathing heavily for any reason—be it after intense physical activity, stress, or if you have a health condition like high blood pressure—taking deep breaths can bring some immediate relief.

There are several techniques of deep breathing that you can practise regularly to ease your mind and keep your body from tensing up. You can include one technique or several different techniques in your routine.

  1. Benefits of deep breathing exercises
  2. Deep breathing exercises
  3. Takeaways

Here are some of the well-known benefits of deep breathing exercises for the body:

  • Helps to detox: There are several toxins that are flowing through the body at any given time. This could be because of polluted surroundings, contaminated water, processed foods, smoking, drinking alcohol or any other reason. Deep breathing exercises can help your body get rid of these toxins, as it helps to detox the blood flowing through your veins—something that shorter breaths cannot do as efficiently.
  • Boosts oxygen levels: Breathing deeply helps the body take in large amounts of oxygen at a time, which in turn travels to the cells all across the body. This helps every system in the body to perform at its peak efficiency and helps in increasing your concentration and energy levels.
  • Reduces stress: The body resorts to shallow or constricted breathing when it is put under physical or mental stress, which can have various manifestations such as anxiety or panic (read more: panic attack and disorder). Deep breathing techniques are often advised in these situations, as they pump more oxygen into the body which helps normalise the heartbeat, thus inducing a sense of calm.
    Taking shorter breaths, ideally into a paper bag that is held tightly around the nose and mouth, is only recommended in the case of hyperventilation when the amount of carbon dioxide in the body drops to such a level that it hampers the normal exchange of gases between our lungs and our blood.
  • Improves respiratory system: The muscles in the lungs and the diaphragm require exercise. The diaphragm contracts and relaxes constantly to allow breathing, and deep breathing keeps these muscles functioning at their optimum level. Deep breathing exercises also help in regulating breathing difficulties, and manage illnesses such as asthma and symptoms such as shortness of breath by opening up the chest and relieving the tension in the muscles.
  • Good for the heart: Breathing deeply is an exercise. Whether it is done on its own or with other exercises, it improves the functioning of the heart. If you can't exercise regularly for some reason or have underlying health issues stopping you from doing so, incorporating deep breathing techniques into your daily routine is still a good idea as they improve your cardiovascular function and allow the body to burn fat.
  • Improves the digestive system: As mentioned earlier, deep breathing improves blood flow to every part of the body, which includes the digestive system. This helps in improving the digestive functions of the body and provides relief from conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or indigestion. These exercises also reduce the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and acid reflux by making the diaphragm stronger.
  • Regulates weight: Shallow breathing burns glycogen instead of fat in the body. Deep breathing, by contrast, helps boost oxygen levels in the body, thereby helping you burn extra fat from different parts of the body.
  • Other benefits: Deep breathing can alleviate pain from different parts of the body, help you sleep better, calm the mind, lower blood pressure and prove beneficial for the skin, helping you look youthful and healthy.

Breathing exercises are easy to do: They do not require any specialised environment or apparatus to perform. They can either be performed at the beginning or end of your day. Or you can do them multiple times in the course of the day. That said, it is a good idea to practise these exercises at the same time every day.

Deep breathing techniques can be performed anywhere, although it is beneficial to choose a place you really like—someplace in your home that you find comfortable and where you can sit or lie down without any disturbance. Try to wear comfortable and loose-fitting clothes during these exercises.

Here are some ways you can incorporate deep breathing exercises into your daily routine:

  1. Pursed lip breathing
  2. Belly breathing
  3. Pranayama
  4. Equal breathing
  5. Resonance frequency breathing

Pursed lip breathing

As it slows down the pace of your breathing, this technique helps you focus more on your breathing technique. 

Steps

  • While lying down or sitting up, relax your shoulders and breathe in deeply through your nose. 
  • Keep your lips slightly pursed as you would while whistling, and slowly exhale by blowing air through the pursed lips. 
  • The duration of breathing out should be twice as long as you took to breathe in.

Belly breathing

Also called diaphragmatic breathing, this technique involves breathing with the help of your stomach and not the chest. It is a great breathing exercise to do when you are relaxed and well-rested. One can perform this exercise for at least 5 minutes in one go, and do it a few times through the day.

Steps

  • Lie down on your back with your head resting on a pillow, and your knees bent.
  • Place one hand on your chest and the other under your rib cage, on the upper part of your stomach.
  • Breathe in slowly, allowing your stomach to rise in the process.
  • Breathe out with pursed lips and bring your stomach back down.

Pranayama

Yoga has been around for centuries. But it has seen a resurgence in the last few decades as an alternative method for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, especially in the Western world. A powerful set of breathing exercises in yoga is called Pranayama.

Pranayama is a Sanskrit word that translates to life (prana) and control (yama). The practice of Pranayama in its various forms is known to relieve stress, detoxify the body and improve bodily functions.

The more popular forms of Pranayama include:

To be sure, some of these exercises aren't about deep inhalation and deep exhalation. However, the desired result is to get more oxygen into the body and remove carbon dioxide and toxins.

Equal breathing

Also known as Sama Vritti Pranayama, this technique helps you equalize breathing in and breathing out, which is beneficial for the body's overall balance.

Steps

  • Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight.
  • You should breathe in and out only through the nose during this exercise.
  • The duration of your breaths should be the same. You can count the number of seconds to breathe in and match it while breathing out.
  • Continue this practice for about 5 to 10 minutes.

Resonance frequency breathing

Also known as coherent breathing, this method of breathing requires you to take five to six full breaths in a minute.

Resonance frequency breathing improves the practitioners' mood and ability to handle stress. According to research published in Frontiers of Public Health, resonance frequency breathing improves heart rate variability: the variations in "time intervals between heartbeats". This, in turn, improves overall physical and mental health.

Another 2017 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that when practised together with Iyengar yoga, resonance frequency breathing was able to reduce the symptoms of depression in people.

Steps

  • Sit comfortably with your back straight.
  • Inhale as you count to five or six (whichever feels more natural to you).
  • Exhale as you count to the same number (five or six).
  • Continue the practice for a few minutes at a time.

Hectic lifestyles and rising levels of stress can cause a person’s overall health to deteriorate. That is why leading an active lifestyle that combines eating healthy, regular exercise (including deep breathing exercises) and adequate sleep is good for a person’s well-being.

Deep breathing techniques are not only effective for the mind, but also for the body as they help you flush out the toxins as well as improving the blood and oxygen flow to different parts of the body. There are several breathing techniques to choose from. You can pick one that you like or practise several together; you can also do them independently or in tandem with other exercises.

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References

  1. Streeter C et al. Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder with Iyengar Yoga and Coherent Breathing: A Randomized Controlled Dosing Study The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2017 Mar; 23(3): 201-207.
  2. Health Harvard Publishing: Harvard Medical School [Internet]. Harvard University, Cambridge. Massachusetts. USA; Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response.
  3. Michigan Medicine: University of Michigan [internet]. Ann Arbor. Michigan. US; Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation
  4. Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine: Boston Children’s Hospital. [Internet] Boston, MA, USA. Deep Breathing Exercises
  5. Steffen P.R., Austin T., DeBarros A. and Brown T. The Impact of Resonance Frequency Breathing on Measures of Heart Rate Variability, Blood Pressure, and Mood. Frontiers in Public Health. 25 August 2017; 5:222. PMID: 28890890.
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