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A short guide to breathing and relaxation exercises

17.04.2020#Stress, #Relaxation

When I treat people for anxiety and depression, I use a holistic approach, meaning that besides my psychotherapeutic work, I take a look at the client’s lifestyle: exercising, relaxation, nutrition and sleep.

Especially in working with anxiety, I often mention deep breathing or focus on breathing exercises as a valuable tool for managing stress and anxiety. Such exercises are the basis for mindfulness technique, and you can use them in all kind of situations where you feel stressed or emotionally overwhelmed, any time of the day. 

For me, it works especially when I observe in my body signs of tension (muscle or back tension), or when I notice my breathing is short (stops in my diaphragm). During my work, I regularly practice in breaks between sessions. 

I’d recommend trying all of them and see what works best for you. Then try to identify a time in the day and a place where you can feel relaxed and build on a regular practice. Like in physical exercises, breathing exercises too, need some kind of regularity to work best.


Use it especially before going to bed, it’s like “counting the sheep”, but instead you’re counting your breaths.
Breath can help take your mind off the racing thoughts, or whatever might be distracting you from sleep. Beginner level

To start, inhale for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four — all through the nose, which adds a natural resistance to the breath. As you become more advanced you can aim for six to eight counts per breath. The goal is to calm the nervous system, increase focus and reduce stress. 


Use it before an interview, exam or any stressful event (I use it when I fly). This exercised had really good effects on people suffering from panic attacks. Beginner level.

With one hand on the chest and the other on the belly, take a deep breath in through the nose, ensuring the diaphragm inflates. You should feel your abdomen expanding. 
For 6-10 deep, slow breaths per minute for 10 minutes each day.


This breathing exercise acts as a natural tranquillizer for the nervous system. It becomes more effective with repetition and practice. Do it at least twice a day, but no more than four breaths at one time for the first month of practice. Use it when anything stressful happens and to help you fall asleep. This is an intermediate level.

Although you can do the exercise in any position, it is recommended that you sit with your back straight while learning 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. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.

Step 1: Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count to four.

Step 2: Hold your breath for a count to seven.

Step 3: Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count to eight.

This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths. 
Always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important, but the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice, you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.


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