Cover Photo: Sage Friedman/

When was the last time you paid attention to how you breathe? It's one of our most vital functions, yet so many of us breathe on autopilot - often leading to quick, shallow or inconsistent breaths, which can increase stress and anxiety. Taking control of your breath is one of the best ways to be in control of your mental wellbeing, and you can start with these five easy breathing techniques

Basic breath awareness

Use this gentle breathing technique to observe your breath. If you're feeling overwhelmed by the outside world or out of tune with yourself, the practice of basic breath awareness can bring you back to your present, allowing you to find and release any tension you are holding. 

How to do it: Start by sitting with your legs crossed or lying down with your knees bent. Place one hand over your heart and the other hand over your stomach. Close your eyes and inhale through your nose, completely filling the lungs and abdomen. Then exhale through your mouth, completely emptying. Focus on the rising and falling of the body, observing this with your hands. Allow your mind to settle and become calm. Repeat.

Dedicating just five to ten minutes per day to breath awareness can make a world of difference for our mental wellbeing, and our ability to approach other areas of our life with mindfulness and calm. 


Ujjayi breath (aka Victorious breath)

Used for thousands of years by yogis, this calming breathing technique brings clarity and confidence. Done correctly, Ujjayi breathing can help to regulate blood pressure, encourage the free flow of oxygen through the body, detox the mind and body, and de-stress. 

How to do it: Seal your lips - but be mindful not to tense your whole face - and take a slightly deeper than normal inhale through your nose. Keeping your mouth closed, do a slow, controlled exhale through your nose while constricting the muscles in the back of your throat. This will create a kind of deep hissing sound. Observe how the sound resembles that of rolling waves, creating an ocean of calm within. Repeat. 

See also: 7 Meditation Apps To Calm And Guide Your Mind

Box breathing

This is one of the fastest and easiest breathing techniques to help you slow down, reduce any anxiety you're feeling and recalibrate.

How to do it: Close your eyes and inhale through your nose, slowly counting to four. Hold that breath for another four seconds. Now exhale from your mouth, and slowly count to four. Hold again for four, then start the cycle again. 

If you struggle with holding your breath, or if this creates more stress for you, you can adjust this exercise but simply inhaling for four and exhaling for four. Just remember to go slow. 

Progressive muscle relaxation

We're often so consumed by our daily tasks that we don't realise how much tension we're holding - whether it's in our eyes and face from staring at screens for too long, or in our shoulders from hunching over our desks. It's important to check in with our bodies now and then to counter any tension we've unintentionally created. 

How to do it: Progressive muscle relaxation works by using your breath to tense and then release individual muscle groups/body parts. 

On your inhale, close your eyes tight, and when you exhale, relax the eyelids. Repeat this technique with different areas of your body; your nose, cheeks, jaw, neck, shoulders, chest, abdomen, arms, hands, buttocks, legs, feet. You can go top-down from eyes to toes, or from the bottom up. 

Counting down

This simple breathing technique can be done sitting, standing or lying down. Personally, this is my favourite technique for when I struggle to fall asleep as it helps to ground me and shift my focus from any wandering thoughts. 

How to do it: It's super straightforward and easy - inhale, and when you exhale, count "ten", inhale, and on your next exhale, count "nine" and so on, until you count all the way down to zero. Start again if necessary. The key here is to take slow, controlled breaths for each count. 

See also: 13 Things You've Been Meaning To Do But Never Had The Time...Until Now


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