For someone who has lived with anxiety for most of their adult life, making sure you “just breathe” when you are feeling anxious is not as easy as you might think. How do you begin to manage your breathing to help you when you are stressed? This is a quick overview of some helpful breathing exercises and breathwork for beginners.
General Breathwork for Beginners and the Best Breathing Exercises
There are many different and useful breathing techniques, however when you are just beginning you have no idea what breathwork even means. Breathwork is a fancy word for any breathing exercises or techniques you can learn to control your breathing in a short period of time.
These different techniques can be very helpful when you are feeling stressed or can’t sleep. They can even help those who have anxiety (like me) to calm down when they are feeling anxious.
Anyone can learn how to do these breathing techniques once you know what they are. You just have to practice them. The breathing exercises outlined below are perfect for beginners, which is why this is called “Breathwork for Beginners”. Easy, right?
Deep Belly Breathing and Observing Your Breathing
Have you ever caught yourself holding your breath doing the day?
You may not notice it at first, I know I didn’t. But once I started to pay attention I noticed as my day would become more stressful, I would hold my breath more often.
Breath holding can be beneficial if you are doing it on purpose (as a form of breath training to increase your lung capacity). But, if you are just holding your breath randomly due to stress, you may notice you are also sighing a lot or taking larger breaths as a way to compensate. Generally, taking some time to observe your breathing and just pay attention to what is normal for you is a good first step.
The next step is to see if you can regularly take some full, deep breaths on a regular basis. Yoga classes and courses usually focus on your breathing and this is part of the reason you feel so relaxed upon completing one.
Yoga courses will focus on breathwork particularly as you work through various poses. Deep belly breathing where you envision your lungs like a balloon and you fill up various parts of the balloon as you go, can be very helpful at improving your lung capacity.
Basic Breathwork for Beginners – The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique
Once you have learned how to observe your breath, what do you do if you notice your breathing is too shallow or fast, for example?
The best resource I have found for getting your breathing back on track and optimal is a practice put forth by Dr. Andrew Weil called “The 4-7-8 Breath“. I first read about it in his book called “Spontaneous Healing” where he discusses this technique.
Dr. Weil’s 4-7-8 Breathing Method is demonstrated in this “4-7-8 Breathing Demonstration” video. This breathing exercise has been very valuable to me in reducing my anxiety, making it easier for me to fall back asleep after waking, and generally making me a less stressed person. Either the video or book above are very useful for learning how to do this breathing exercise.
The 478 Breathing Method is also an excellent breathing technique to try when you are having a hard time getting to sleep at night. If you try and breathe in for a count of 4 through your nose, then hold for a count of 7, then breathe out for a count of 8, and repeat it a few times, you may find it is easier for you to then fall back asleep.
Easy Yoga Breathing Practices
Another way to focus on your breathing is to use breaths from yoga. Yoga breathing can be a valuable way to learn to calm yourself in stressful situations by practicing what they call “alternate nostril” breathing. Alternate nostril breathing is just what it sounds like – you breathe through one nostril and then you breathe through the other (alternating – rather than both at once). You can see an illustration of this technique in this video on alternate nostril breathing.
Alternate nostril breathing takes a little bit of time to master, but when you are able to master it, this can be another powerful tool at your disposal in times of stress.
Breathwork for Beginners – Box Breathing Technique (Square Breathing Technique)
This may be one of the easiest breathwork techniques to implement when you are out in the world and feeling anxious. The first thing you do, is to look for anything that has a frame (like a window frame) or any box shape.
To do this breathing exercise, breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, breathe out for 4 counts, and then pause for 4 counts. You then repeat this process up to 4 times per session. You can find out more about the benefits of box breathing also known as 4×4 breathing or 4 square breathing with this Box Breathing Benefits article by the Cleveland Clinic.
Below is a visual to help you understand how this can work when you are out and about and need something to focus on.
Deep Breathing Exercises to Breathe Your Way Through Stress
Whenever you find yourself in a stressful situation and feeling anxious, remember to check your breathing. For example, if I have to give blood, get a shot, or go through any medical procedure, controlling my breathing and making sure to take slow, deep breaths can calm me through it.
What is your favorite go-to method for breathing when you are stressed? Everyone should have a few favorites they can use to help calm themselves as needed.
How do you calm yourself in stressful situations? Have you ever tried any of these breathing exercises for beginners or the other breathwork techniques? Let me know in the comments below how you remember to “just breathe”.
Looking for other ways to calm yourself?
For other ideas on ways to calm yourself in stressful situations, please see:
Taking Care of Yourself First (Oxygen Mask Theory)
Extreme Self-Care Days for Rough Times
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