3 Breathing Exercises to Reduce Anxiety

Our breath is what is keeping us alive! Without it, we would not exist. It is the first thing we do when we are born, and it is the last thing we do when we die. Yet how many times do we stop to acknowledge the breath? To send gratitude to our breath? Unfortunately, for many of us, our connection with the breath is non-existent and therefore we can tend to feel disconnected and at dis-ease.

Breathing is an automatic function of the body controlled by the respiratory centre of our brain. As we inhale we take in oxygen and as we breathe out, we dispel carbon dioxide. This exchange of gases enables nutrients and blood to be pumped around the body increasing our vitality and wellbeing. Yet there is another powerful secret to the breath. Our breath reflects our inner state. The way we breathe, whether it be shallow, deep, short, into the chest or deep into the diaphragm, is reflective of our state of mind and nervous system.

Thanks to science, we now know that the mind and body are intricately connected and the bridge between the two is the breath. By controlling the breath, otherwise known as pranayama, we can affect the nervous system and quieten the mind to create the desired state and control the body’s involuntary functions.

When we are anxious, our breath locks itself in the chest. This can result in increased feelings of anxiety, discomfort and a sense of ungrounded. Controlling the breathing, specifically breathing into the lower diaphragm we can create a shift in our nervous system and send signals to the brain that enable us to deeply relax.

The benefits include:

  • Lowered blood pressure and heart rate
  • Reduced levels of stress hormones in the blood
  • Reduced lactic acid build-up in muscle tissue
  • Balanced levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood
  • improved immune system functioning
  • Improves sleep
  • Increased physical energy
  • Increased feelings of calm and wellbeing.

“If you stay calm and breathe peacefully and easily through challenge, the layer of resistance, the armour separating us from the present, separating us from others, dissolves. Then we feel more alive, more connected. Richer.” Tamara Graham

The below three exercises work to calm the nervous system and quieten the mind. They will provide you with more clarity, more insight and a sense of groundedness.

Note: benefits only come from a consistent and daily practice.

Breathing exercises can be done in any position in which you maintain the neutral curves of the spine and your abdomen is not compressed. Some options include:

  • An upright seated position.
  • A seated position on a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
  • Lying down fully extended in Corpse Pose, or in modified or Supported Corpse Pose with your knees bent or with a bolster under your knees.

1. Three-Part Breathing

This practise calms the mind and soothes the muscles, enhances relaxation and is fantastic for insomnia, anxiety and stress.

  1. Close your eyes. Relax your face and body and breathe naturally through your nose.
  2. Place your left hand on your low abdomen, a few inches below your belly button, and place your right hand on the outer right edge of your rib cage.
  3. Begin to focus your awareness on your breath as it moves in and out of your body through your nose.
  4. On your inhalations, feel the natural lift of your belly, followed by the expansion of your ribs.
  5. On your exhalations, feel the slight compression of your ribs, followed by the drop of your belly. Exhale completely, pressing very gently on your abdomen to help expel air.
  6. Next, bring your left hand to your chest, placing it in the center, just below your collarbone.
  7. As you inhale, breathe all the way into this area and allow your chest to rise slightly. Then, exhale completely.
  8. As you continue to breathe, keep your awareness on this three-part movement. As you inhale, your belly lifts, your ribs expand, and your chest rises. As you exhale, your chest drops, your ribs contract, and your belly softens and lowers.
  9. Continue at your own pace, gradually letting the three parts of the breath flow smoothly without pausing.
  10. Release your arms and focus your mind on your breath, continuing the three-part breath with full and complete inhalations and exhalations.
  11. Continue for up to five minutes, or for as long as you feel comfortable.

2. Box Breathing

This practice reduces stress and anxiety and improves mood.

  1. Close your eyes. Breathe in through your nose, slowly counting to 4. Feel the air filling your lungs.
  2. Hold your breath here and slowly count to 4 again. Try not to clamp your airways shut. Simply avoid inhaling or exhaling for 4 counts.
  3. Slowly exhale to the count of 4.
  4. Hold the exhale for another 4 counts.
  5. Repeat steps 1–4 for 4 minutes or until you feel calm and centred.

3. Alternate Nostril Breathing

This incredible practise is soothing and calming, it balances the hemispheres of the brain, the central nervous system and reduces stress and anxiety.

  1. Begin by placing your right middle and pointer fingers in the palm of your hand leaving just your pinkie and ring fingers and your thumb free.
  2. Take your right thumb over your right nostril and inhale through the left nostril.
  3. Place your ring finger over your left nostril and exhale through the right nostril.
  4. Leave your hand as it is and inhale through the left nostril
  5. Place your thumb over your right nostril and exhale through the left nostril
  6. Repeat this up to 6 times. Your breath should start to soften and your awareness turns inwards.

Stephanie Johnson (@stephanie.johnson_) is an Australian Stress Management specialist and a 500hr Tamara Yoga ISHTA yoga and meditation teacher specialising in restorative, yin, vinyasa and yoga Nidra. Stephanie has worked with Australian and International business, schools and individuals reducing stress and improving personal wellbeing. Her 6-week Employee Empowerment programs, one-off workshops and regular yoga and meditation classes are highly sort after across Australia. To learn more about Steph, visit her website or her Instagram for further info.