Stressed? Can't sleep? Try a breathing exercise.

Jun 25, 2020

You do it 960 times every hour, about 23,040 times per day. In fact, you’re doing it right now. Most importantly, researchers have discovered that most of us are doing it wrong.

I’m talking about breathing. You’re probably thinking, “I know I get a lot of mundane activities like eating and exercising wrong, but breathing? That can’t be. I inhale and exhale, and that’s all there is to it, right?”

Turns out, it’s not that simple.

The Types of Breathing Explained

There are two types of breathing: apical and diaphragmatic. Apical involves breathing through your upper chest and neck, while diaphragmatic involves breathing through your diaphragm. The better way to breathe, according to experts, is using your diaphragm.

Massage Therapy Canada highlights some of the reasons why you should practice diaphragmatic breathing. Breathing exercises can go a long way toward enhancing your respiratory performance and, subsequently, boost your immune system, increase your energy levels, and even help you sleep better.

Breathing Benefits

Relaxation

When you’re relaxed, your body is in the perfect state of balance. But if you look around, you’re more likely to find people who are stressed than those who aren’t. In a survey conducted by Gallup, eight in 10 Americans stated they “sometimes” or “frequently” experience stress.

If you’re always feeling stressed, a breathing exercise can help. Deep breathing exercises enable persons to relax by stimulating their parasympathetic nervous system, the mechanism that offsets the effects of the sympathetic nervous system. That’s the one that triggers a flight-or-fight response whenever it perceives predators, but can’t tell that a missed deadline or full inbox aren’t life-and-death situations. By offsetting that response, you can decrease stress.

Better Sleep

A study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that 25% of Americans suffer from acute insomnia every year. The most common remedies are sleeping pills, earplugs, eye masks, and white noise. But while most of these sleep aids are effective, they only provide short-term solutions. A better and easier way to get better sleep is by simply breathing in and out.

Increased Energy

It seems like everyone and their brother are queueing for that cup of morning coffee to get their energy levels up. More Americans are drinking coffee now than they have in the past six years. Rather than litter the environment with coffee cups or overwhelm your body with caffeine, what you should be considering is a shot of oxygen for that energy boost.

Not only can breathing exercises increase your energy, they can also improve your athletic performance. Bringing more oxygen into your cells causes a chain of reactions, including slowing your heart rate, lowering blood pressure, boosting circulation, and, ultimately, providing more energy.

5 Breathing Exercises to Try

Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing

Main Benefit: Relaxation

Although the key benefit of this exercise is relaxation, it also lowers your heart rate and blood pressure and improves the stability of your core muscles.

Try it:

● Find a comfortable position — you can sit or lie on the floor, bed, or any other flat surface — and bend your knees in a way that feels comfortable

● Relax your shoulders

● Close your eyes and breathe in through your nose, expanding your belly as you do

● Hold your breath for at least one second

● Breathe out through your mouth as if you were blowing out some birthday candles, letting your belly deflate fully

● Repeat for 3-5 minutes

Watch it done here.

The 10-Count Breath

Main Benefit: Relaxation

As the name suggests, this exercise involves counting from 1 to 10 as you breathe. It forces you to focus just on your breathing, instead of on the things that are causing you stress.

Try it:

● Sit or lie down in comfortable position on your bed, in a chair, or the floor

● Start breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth

● When you’ve got a rhythm going, start counting your breaths. Breathe in, one. Breathe out, two. Breathe in, three, and so on.

● When you get to 10, start again from one

● Repeat at least three times

The 4-7-8 Exercise

Main Benefit: Better Sleep

Developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, this technique is highly recommended for those who want to improve their sleeping patterns. Also referred to as the “Relaxing Breath,” this workout acts as a natural tranquilizer, putting your body into a state of relaxation.

Try it:

● Sit or lie down comfortably

● Rest the tip of your tongue against the ridge of your upper palate, just behind your upper front teeth. Keep your tongue there throughout the exercise.

● Close your mouth and inhale through your nose as you count to four

● Hold your breath and count to seven

● Exhale through your mouth as you count to eight

● Repeat as long as needed

Watch it done here.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Main Benefit: Increased Energy

Alternate nostril breathing is an exercise derived from yoga. This workout is both energizing and relaxing.

Try it:

● Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight

● Rest your left arm on your lap and your right hand on your nose. Position your right hand in such a way that the pointer and middle finger rest between your eyebrows.

● Using your thumb, close the right nostril and breathe in through the left

● Next, close you left nostril using your ring finger and hold your breath for two seconds. (Both your nostrils are closed at this point.)

● Release your right nostril and breathe out fully

● Inhale through the right side, close both nostrils and hold, then breathe out through the left

● This is just one cycle. Repeat for five to 10 cycles.

The Hundred Breathing

Main Benefit: Increased Energy

This exercise is derived from Pilates, and it’s meant to warm up your body while increasing your lung capacity.

Try it:

● Take five short, sharp inhales through your nose

● Next, take five short, strong exhales through your mouth. Contract your abdominals as you exhale to force the air out.

● Repeat 10 times

Jon Muller

Jon Muller is the founder of Ergonomic Trends, where he writes about ergonomics, office productivity, and the best ergonomic products for your health.