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Keep Calm: 4 Easy Breathing Techniques to Help You Stay Centered

Breath work can help you stay centered and restore calm when life gets  a little harried.  Photo by Jolie Goodson

It’s so easy to take the simple act of breathing for granted; after all, the autonomic nervous system controls each inhalation and exhalation—no thinking on our part required.

However, there are good reasons to put a little more thought into your breath: Practicing breath work, even for a few minutes a day, has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety as well as benefit people with heart disease, asthma, high blood pressure, and other illnesses.

Breath work is also an excellent antidote for flare-ups of frustration or anger (hey, it happens to the best of us). Even better, this is one relaxation tool you literally carry with you everywhere, no equipment needed—making it a great go-to calming practice when you’re in a busy parking lot, at work, or even standing in line at the grocery store.

These four breathing techniques are among the easiest for beginners.

Give it a try, keep calm, and carry on!

1. Belly Breathing

Also called “diaphragmatic” breathing, this super-easy technique pulls your diaphragm down and stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from your brain stem, through your chest, and into your belly. Benefits of diaphragmatic breathing include a slower heart rate and lower blood pressure. Powerful, right?

Belly Breathing, Made Easy. 1) Sit comfortably upright in a chair and, if you like, close your eyes. 2) Place one hand on your stomach and one on your chest. 3) Breathe slowly and deeply through your nose and into your belly—you should feel it lift up and expand under your hand. 4) Exhale from your belly slowly and completely—you should feel it going back down again. 5) Repeat for 5 minutes or so.

2. Equal-Length Breathing

Simply counting to make each exhale and inhale the same length can soothe your nervous system and make you feel calmer. This technique is also really helpful when you’re trying to get to sleep (instead of counting sheep, you’re counting breaths)!

Equal-Length Breathing, Made Easy. 1) Sit comfortably upright in a chair and, if you like, close your eyes. 2) Inhale through your nose for a count of four, and then exhale through your nose as you count to four. 3) As you start to get the hang of it, increase the count to six seconds…or even eight (challenge yourself!). 4) Repeat for several minutes.

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3. Alternate-Nostril Breathing:

Known as “Nadi Shodhana” in yoga circles, this technique can improve your focus and lower your heart rate and blood pressure—all by breathing through one nostril at a time! It sounds a bit complicated, but in practice, it’s simple. This guided video will make you a master.

Alternate-Nostril Breathing, Made Easy: 1) Open your hand and bend the index and middle fingers against the palm (your thumb, ring, and pinky fingers will naturally be extended). To begin, bring your palm to your face and close your right nostril with your right thumb. 2) Inhale through your left nostril. 2) After a full inhale, close your left nostril with your ring finger. Exhale through your right nostril, and then inhale though the right nostril. 4) After a full inhale, close off your right nostril with your thumb and exhale through the left. 5) Repeat for several minutes.

4. Box Breathing

Also known as four-square or 4x4x4x4 breathing, box breathing is a specific belly-breathing pattern that has proven to be a great tool for improving mental resilience. In fact, it’s so powerful that military combatants practice this technique to override the brain’s instinctive responses to stress and panic. The next time you’re dealing with a stressful situation, take a break and try it—there’s even a Box Breathing app to help you perfect the method!

Box Breathing, Made Easy. 1) Sit in a comfortable upright position with your back straight, either in a chair or cross-legged on the floor. 2) Inhale deeply to the count of four, being sure to breathe through your belly, and then. At the top of your inhale, hold your breath for another count of four. 3) Exhale completely for a count of four, and then. At the very bottom of your exhale, hold your breath for another count of four (this is often the hardest part of box breathing). 4) Repeat for 5 or 10 minutes.

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