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Breathing Exercises for Stress Relief

Stress is all the rage these days, or rather, it makes us rage. I hate stress; though, a certain amount of stress is needed to get things done. Constant stress, which seems to be greater all the time, is very unhealthy and can cause physical problems, sleeplessness, and just feeling frazzled. It helps to feel calm and relaxed in order to think clearly and live well.

So, what are the steps to de-stressing or reducing stress? In a nutshell, think of hobbies, exercises, or other activities that help you feel relaxed and allow you to forget the outside world for a while. Maybe you like to go to movies or do yoga. Maybe you like to run or walk a few miles to forget. Maybe it is a hobby like jewelry-making, sewing, woodworking, or restoring cars. All of these are great ways to reduce stress. I have a few de-stressing techniques I use. Exercise seems to be number one; although, heavy exercise before bed can actually wake you up. Exercise, yoga, tai chi, meditation, relaxing through breathing or visualization are all excellent ways to de-stress.

Some people have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, myself included. I have heard many older people complain about this. Staying active throughout the day and turning off the TV, computer and cell phone an hour before bed can help you sleep. Stretching, light exercise, reading, knitting, beading, anything that helps you unwind can become a part of your sleep routine.

Breathing exercises are great stress relievers because they cause you to concentrate on your breathing and forget everything else. Some techniques are adapted from yoga and Pilate's techniques. They require no equipment and can be done anywhere. My favorite quick, breath exercise is to blow out puffing up my cheeks, push my breath out strongly, and repeat until I feel calmer. Here are a few breathing techniques to get you started on your way to calmness.

The Stimulating Breath is adapted from yoga. Inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose, keeping your mouth closed but relaxed. Your breaths in and out should be equal and as short as possible. Do for 15 seconds at first, then increase time by five seconds until you reach a minute. Perform three in-and-out breath cycles per second, then breathe normally after each cycle. This exercise is good for a quick energy boost.

For the Relaxing Breath Exercise, place the tip of your tongue a behind your front teeth and exhale through your mouth around your tongue. You can purse your lips if needed. Exhale completely through your mouth and around your tongue. Close your mouth and inhale through your nose to a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven, then exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh to a count of eight. This is one cycle. Repeat three more times for a total of four breaths. Do twice a day with four breaths at one time for the first month of practice, then expand to eight breaths.

Breath Counting is a technique used in Zen, which is a form of Buddhism. For this technique, sit with a straight spine, head tilted slightly forward. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Breathe naturally and count one to yourself as you exhale. On the second exhalation, count two, and continue to the fifth exhalation. For each cycle, count one on the starting exhalation. Concentrate on breathing and work up to ten minutes.

The Complete Breath utilizes the lungs to their full capacity and relaxes the body. Breathe into diaphragm and expand the ribs out to the sides. Inhale so that the top part of the abdomen rises. You feel the expansion under the armpits and the breast bone will rise. To exhale, reverse the direction of the three breaths one at a time. Breaths should be even and equal.

Alternate Nostril Breath engages both nostrils to help balance breathing. Take a breath and exhale all the air in your lungs with both nostrils. Close your right nostril with your thumb inhale slowly through left nostril. Hold your breath for a few seconds. Close your left nostril with the forefinger of the same hand as you release your thumb from the right nostril. Exhale through the right nostril while keeping the left one closed. Hold for a few seconds. Repeat the alternate nostril breathing until you work up to 8 cycles. When you are finished, make one final inhalation through both nostrils and slowly exhale.

Pilates breathing

Lateral breathing
Keeping the abdominal muscles pulled in, inhale deeply, maintaining contraction of the abs. Expand the breath down the back and into the sides of the ribcage. Feel the breath under your armpits. Exhale slowly; the chest slowly deflates. Repeat until breaths are smooth and even.

Diaphragmatic Breathing
Lie on your back with your knees bent or sit with a neutral spine. Put one hand on your lower abs so you can feel your breaths. Relax your shoulders, let your spine rest naturally, and breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose. The breath should expand the side and lower ribs, fill the diaphragm and go into the pelvis so your abs push out. Let go of the breath in reverse order: flatten your lower abs and diaphragm, let your chest drop, and expel all the air. Repeat until each movement flows into the next.

Ogle, Maguerite. “Learn Lateral Breathing.” About.com: Pilates. http://pilates.about.com/od/pilatesmat/a/LateralBreath.htm October 28, 2008

Weil, Dr. Andrew. “Breathing: Three Exercises.” Weil Lifestyle, LLC. http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART00521/three-breathing-exercises.html 2011.

Michael Grant White. “Breathing Exercises For Living Life and Loving It.” Breathing.com. http://www.breathing-exercises.com/Home_Page.html 2009-2011.

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