3 Simple Exercises To Reduce Stress

Just Breathe: 3 Simple Stress Reducing Exercises | Jennifer Diaz | Photo by Kelsey Cherry | Breathing Techniques | Stress Management | How to stay calm

This time of the year can often elicit an assortment of emotions: joy, sadness, pain, happiness, loneliness, excitement, stress... It is difficult to manage everything we have on our schedules, as well as in our hearts and minds. I don't know about you, but I already feel as though I've missed this holiday season. Although I've been to more celebrations in the past month than the 3 before it combined, I've found myself doing a lot of participating without experiencing. I've let my to-do lists get in the way of being present, and I have a feeling that I'm not alone. So in order to make sure I slow down and experience the remainder of the holidays, while minimizing the tension I'll encounter along the way, I've decided to add a few simple breathing exercises into my daily routine. 

Breathing is one of the most basic, life-sustaining activities. However, over the course of time, many people develop inefficient breathing techniques. In fact, most people only use about one third of their lung capacity while at rest. The breathing and arousal centers in the brain have a facilitating relationship with one another, meaning that your breathing is a direct reflection of your general state of stress. Ancient yoga philosophy states that the mind is the master of the senses, breath is the master of the mind, and breathing is the elixir of life. If you control your breath, you control your stress. In addition to calming the nerves, breathing correctly also strengthens and conditions the pulmonary system, promotes greater oxygenation, and enhances the function of the cardiovascular system.

So how do we breathe in such a way to calm our tension and reap all the other physiological benefits? Correct breathing involves the expansion and contraction of the diaphragm, ribs, and stomach muscles, and exhalation should last longer than inhalation. Below are three breathing exercises that will help you take advantage of your lung's full capacity and lower your stress levels in a matter of minutes:

1. Very Deep Breathing

You can do this either sitting or lying down in a comfortable position. Begin by exhaling every bit of air from your lungs by forcing the air out until you feel the space between your belly and spine shrink. Then, inhale slowly, breathing from the diaphragm, until the abdominal wall is pushed up and out. Picture your lungs filling up from the bottom, middle, then to the top, like a glass of water. Hold your breath for three seconds and then exhale gently through the nose or mouth. Concentrate on the air moving through the passageways. Then, begin to notice the looseness in your body as your settle down and focus solely on your breath and how your body is feeling. Repeat this five times, resting between each repetition. 

2. Controlled Tempo Breathing

This is a great exercise for when you need to center yourself and work on your concentration. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position and keep your eyes closed. In this exercise, your breathing will be quiet, natural, and effortless. Begin by simply concentrating on the natural rhythm of your breath. Then, with one hand, find your pulse in the wrist of the other arm and count your pulse for one minute. As you're counting, bring part of your attention back to your breathing. Count the number of pulses during a normal exhalation several times until you have a rhythm. The average will be somewhere between 5 and 10 heartbeats. As an example, let's say its 6. Still monitoring your pulse, breath in for 6 counts, hold for 6, exhale for 6, and then remain quiet for 6. Continue this for three minutes. In the beginning, it is normal to lose count. As your concentration improves, you'll be able to make it through the entire exercise. 

3. Breath Counting

This is another good exercise with emphasis on concentration and relaxation. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position, keeping your eyes closed. This breathing will also be quiet, natural, and effortless. This is basically the breathing version of "counting to ten."  As you breathe in, focus on the air coming into your lungs. As you exhale, concentrate on how the air feels leaving your lungs. Now on every exhale, count your breaths. Count to ten consecutively without missing a breath and if you do miss one, start over.  Concentrate on anticipating the next breath. Acknowledge any random thoughts that come to your mind and then dismiss them, bringing your attention back to your breath. After you get to ten, start back at one and repeat ten more times. 

Although breathing is automatic for us, taking time to regularly practice intentional breathing is one of the simplest ways to cultivate a more relaxed attitude, helping us to stay calm and handle our stressful moments productively

Today, let's all take a moment to quiet our minds, breathe deeply, and let the calmness ensue!