3 Breathing Exercises for Anxiety

Anxiety is a natural part of life, but the experience of it never feels natural. From a tightness in the chest to a churning feeling in the stomach, anxiety can feel all consuming and distracting. We struggle to carry out our daily tasks, and often find ourselves running away with our thoughts.

Breathwork can help us relieve these feelings, step outside of our thought spirals, and return to ourselves. 

Whether you take some time to breathe in your chair, or make a practice out of it with our comfortable meditation cushion, pausing to try a breathwork exercise can have immediate benefits.

Here are 3 different exercises to try the next time you feel anxious: 

#1: Box Breathing

Box breathing is a simple exercise that anyone can do at any time and in any place! With equal counts for each step, it’s easy to follow and certainly effective: even Navy SEALs engage in this practice. 

To start:

  1. Breathe out slowly, releasing all the air from your lungs
  2. Breathe in through your nose, for a count of 4. During this time, notice how the air fills your lungs and stomach. 
  3. Hold your breath for a count of 4
  4. Exhale for a count of 4
  5. Hold your breath again, for a count of 4
  6. Repeat 4 times

#2: 4-7-8 Breathing

This exercise was created by Andrew Weil, M.D., a professor of medicine and public health, as well as the founder of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. It follows a similar format to the above, and may be a natural next step after you’ve gotten the hang of box breathing. Engaging in this exercise helps regulate cortisol, which is also known as “the stress hormone.” 

To start:

  1. Place one hand on your belly, and the other hand on your chest
  2. Inhale through your nose for a count of 4
  3. Hold your breath for 7 counts 
  4. Breathe out for 8 counts
  5. Repeat as many times as necessary (between 3 to 7 should be good!)
  6. Take a moment to sit with your body, noticing how your body and mind feel after the exercise. Jot down a mental note, before moving intentionally into the rest of your day. 

#3: Diaphragmatic Breathing

Otherwise known as belly breathing, this exercise is another great choice for relieving anxiety. It also involves lying down, which can feel grounding and soothing during anxious moments. While you can engage in this exercise whenever you want to calm the mind and body, it’s most effective when done consistently. Experts recommend practicing it for 5 minutes, 3 times a day. 

To start:

  1. Lie on your back, with your knees bent and your head on a cushion or pillow
  2. Place one hand on your upper chest and one hand below your rib cage (this allows you to feel the movement of your diaphragm!)
  3. Slowly inhale through your nose, noticing as your stomach pushes into your hand
  4. Keep the hand on your upper chest still
  5. Exhale using pursed lips as you tighten your stomach muscles, continuing to keep the hand on your chest still

Out of the three exercises, this one may feel the most challenging! You may find yourself feeling tired at first, however, it will get easier with time and practice.

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