The advice to “just breathe” is more than metaphorical. Breathing exercises can decrease stress, improve mental alertness and raise energy levels. They can also improve health conditions such as respiratory disease, depression, chronic fatigue, heart disease and high blood pressure. Exercise techniques for breathing help to strengthen the diaphragm, rib cage and abdominal muscles for more efficient breathing. Breathing exercises are also easy to do and can instantly improve a stress-filled week.
Shallow Breath Exercise
Also called the Chinese breath exercise, this technique helps to relax the body and calm anxiety and stress. While sitting in a chair, hold your arms straight in front of your body at shoulder height. Inhale three short breaths through the nose only, lifting your arms out to the sides and then up over your head on the second and third breaths. Drop your arms down to your sides and exhale through your mouth in one large breath. Repeat 10 to 12 times.
Belly Breath Exercise
Cleanse the lungs and increase energy and mental focus with this exercise. Lie flat on your back on the floor or a firm mattress. Place your hands palms down on your stomach, just below the rib cage. This is the area of the diaphragm muscle that is very important in breathing. Breathe deeply until the stomach expands. Hold the breath for a count of three seconds and then exhale for a count of three seconds. Repeat for five to 10 minutes. This exercise also helps to improve lung capacity and oxygen levels in the body.
Standing and Bowing Exercise
This exercise helps to improve breathing using the abdominal muscles instead of the more shallow chest breathing that is common, but less effective to improve health and reduce tension. It also helps to reduce back strain. Stand up straight and inhale deeply using your stomach, without puffing up your chest. Then slowly exhale while bending forward at the waist with your hands on your knees, so that your upper body forms a 90-degree angle with your waist. Inhale deeply, again trying not to use your chest, while rolling back up to a standing position. Exhale and bend forward again. Repeat for five to 10 minutes.
The 4-7-8 Exercise
This exercise also improves breathing patterns and reduces stress. While standing or sitting upright place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest and inhale deeply and slowly for a count of four. Then hold your breath for a count of seven. Next, exhale continuously for a count of eight. Repeat this exercise up to eight times a day.
About this Author
Noreen Kassem is a physician in training and a medical writer with 10 years of experience in writing and editing. Noreen’s articles have been featured in Women’s Health, Nutrition News, Check Up and Alive Magazine. She also writes about her other interests: travel, books, fitness, nutrition, cooking and green living.