Deep breathing and other relaxation techniques have numerous benefits, such as:
- Lowering stress
- Lowering blood pressure and heart rate
- Serving as a temporary distraction
- Helping relieve tension
- Improving sleep
- Allowing oxygen to flow throughout the body
My personal favorites include: 4-7-8, the body scan, guided meditation, and listening to nature sounds. Practicing relaxation techniques helped me manage major depression, anxiety, and even insomnia.
You can record yourself repeating the steps to the following exercises or find the audio versions online or on YouTube.
Deep Breathing Exercises
- Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position.
- Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let your belly push your hand out. Your chest should not move.
- Breathe out through pursed lips as if you were whistling. Feel the hand on your belly go in, and use it to push all the air out.
- Do this breathing 3 to 10 times. Take your time with each breath.
- Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.
- Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
- Breathe in, and tense the first muscle group (i.e., hands) for 4 to 10 seconds (hard but not to the point of pain or cramping).
- Breathe out, and suddenly and completely relax the muscle group (do not relax it gradually).
- Relax for 10 to 20 seconds before you work on the next muscle group. Notice the difference between how the muscles feel when they are tense and how they feel when they are relaxed.
- When you are finished with all of the muscle groups, count backward from 5 to 1 to bring your focus back to the present.
- Get into a comfortable position.
- Close your eyes and relax.
- Begin to visualize a scene, memory, or story that you find calming. This is highly individual—find what works best for you by trying a few choices — a favorite vacation or calming outdoor spot, a relaxing activity or something repetitive like remembering the steps of an exercise or dance routine. The key is to find something that allows you to focus your attention and let go of other thoughts.
- Begin to create this scenario in your mind.
- Visualize all the details of the image or story, as slowly and carefully as you can.
- Any time you find your mind drifting to an unrelated thought (a worry about the day or a “must do” for tomorrow), acknowledge it and let it go.
The Body Scan is another relaxation exercise you can try.
As always, it is best to speak with a healthcare provider about your sleep habits or if you are experiencing any pain, trauma, or mental health condition. Also, you should practice relaxation techniques a few times to determine what works best for you.
University of Michigan. (2019). Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation. Retrieved from https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uz2255
Dr. Andrew Weil. (2016). Three Breathing Exercises and Techniques. Retrieved from https://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/body-mind-spirit/stress-anxiety/breathing-three-exercises/
Dartmouth University Wellness Center. (n.d.). Guided Audio Recordings. Retrieved from https://students.dartmouth.edu/wellness-center/wellness-mindfulness/mindfulness-meditation/guided-audio-recordings