It seems simple enough, but it’s actually quite a complicated ordeal. When we’re stressed, we tend to take shallow breaths from the chest, rather than from the diaphragm—and that can have actually make things worse (and even impact your posture and set you up for other physical issues).
On the other hand, harnessing the power of your breath can help you feel calmer and way more relaxed. And you don’t have to sit around for 20 minutes at a time focusing on your breathing or take a yoga class.
These five simple breathing tricks can help you kick start calm mode no matter where you are, promises Belisa Vranich, Ph.D., founder of The Breathing Class.
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Extend your exhale
If your inhale is two counts, make sure your exhale is at least three. Most people focus more on their inhale, says Vranich in her book, Breathe, but in fact, "mediocre exhalations are a mjor contributor to poor breathing."
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Use your diaphragm
"Make sure you are taking a lower body breath, which is pretty much is the opposite of every breath you've taken since you are about ten years old," says Vranich. In her book, she describes belly breathing (AKA Abdominal or Diaphragmatic Breathing) as expanding your abdomen rather than the chest which encourages full oxygen exchange. "Expand your belly and middle without letting your shoulders move at all," says Vranich. "On the exhale, squeeze all the stale air out, using your abs."
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Hum on the exhale
"Yes it can be a sigh, or you can use a kazoo," says Vranich. You can also borrow Ocean Breath used in yoga.
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Chill out (literally)
This one isn't directly tied to your breath, but it's just as simple. Submerging your face in cold water can have a calming effect on the vegus nerve (a very long nerve that tells your brain to stress out or to be calm), per Vranich. If that's not doable (you're at work, maybe?), rinse your hands with really cold water to get a similar effect.
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Be a nose breather
Breathe through your nose, alternating nostrils (you can place a finger on one nostril to keep it closed). "The Patanjali Institute in India ran brain scans and found this 4000-year-old technique does actually calm your brain," says Vranich.
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