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Breathing Exercises for Relaxation

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Expire to be inspired

Sometimes you just need a moment to catch your breath. In fact, many doctors recommend controlled breathing for both short- and long-term relaxation. Here are five simple breathing exercises you can do anytime, even at your desk during the workday.

Alternate nostril breathing

This easy breathing technique is done in a meditative pose and is said to be like a jolt of caffeine that sharpens your focus.

To do this, hold your thumb over your right nostril while you inhale through the left nostril. At the height of the inhalation, close off the right nostril with the middle finger of the same hand while releasing the thumb. Then, exhale through the right nostril. Repeat.

Bellows breath

According to the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), this breathing exercise can be used to improve energy throughout the workday. It's also known as the stimulating breath and relies on short, fast rhythmic breathing.

Sit in an upright position with your spine straight. Gently close your mouth and quickly inhale and exhale through your nose, like you are pumping air into a tire. Do this for no longer than 15 seconds for beginners and up to one minute for more advanced practitioners to avoid hyperventilating.

Abdominal breathing

Known as diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing reduces tension while improving the flow of blood and lymph within your body by expanding the lung’s air pockets, reports AMSA. Do this technique twice a day or as needed when you're feeling stressed or in physical pain.

Take a deep breath with one hand placed on your chest and the other on your abdomen. The latter hand should rise further than the one on your chest, indicating you’re using your diaphragm to push the air to the bases of your lungs. As you inhale deeply and slowly though your nose, focus on a word like “relaxation,” and hold it for a count of seven. Exhale for a count of eight while thinking of a word associated with the feeling or emotion you want to release, such as “stress,” AMSA suggests. Repeat the cycle five times total, aiming for a rate of six inhale/exhale combinations per minute.

Counting the breath

Use this breathing technique when you have longer periods of time to spare, recommends holistic guru Dr. Andrew Weil.

Sit upright with your spine straight and head slightly tilted forward. With eyes closed, take a few deep breaths to regulate your rhythm. Begin the exercise by counting “one” as you exhale. Count to two and up to five for each subsequent exhale before repeating the cycle. Do not exceed five counts while meditating on this technique for 10 minutes or longer.

Equal Breathing

Slip into your bed with the purpose of balancing your body and mind after a long day. Experts equate this yoga breath to counting sheep because it distracts you from anxious or racing thoughts.

Inhale through your nose for a count of four; then exhale for a count of four. Repeat this for as little or as long as you desire, eventually building up to eight counts. All the while, you should focus your breath and thoughts on calming your nervous system.

Relaxation breathing can take as little as five minutes or a hour, depending on your needs and time. The best part is you can do these exercises anywhere and anytime. All you need is to focus and, of course, get those lungs pumping.

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