how to breathe


What if I told there is something you could do to feel better in 5 minutes?  No matter what condition you are in now – fit, overweight, tired, at work, exercising – you will feel better almost instantly?  On top of that, what if it helped you sleep at night?  Best of all, you don’t need any special equipment or a gym or anything at all to do it.  I’m talking, of course, about breathing for relaxation.

First of all, if you begin to feel faint you should immediately stop what you are doing and breathe normally.  As you do this more frequently, the feeling should decrease.  And of course if you have any sort of condition (heart problems, asthma, respiratory illness, blood pressure issues, or anything related) you should consult a physician before continuing.

Here are the 5 steps to breathing for relaxation:


  • Make sure you are seated comfortably
  • Blow your nose if you need to
  • Relax your face; imagine the system of muscles running below the skin and relax them, one by one
  • Keep your spine straight, feet on the floor
  • Keep your stomach from being "bent in"
  • Put one hand on your stomach, one in your lap


  • Inhale through your nose
  • Breathe in on a count of four
  • Relax your throat
  • Mentally picture air rushing through your lungs, filling them up
  • Feel the inhalation lift your chest and rib cage
  • Visualize the diaphragm pushing up
  • At the end of a count of four, hold your breath momentarily before beginning to exhale


  • Exhale through your mouth
  • Keep your mouth in "U" position – the shape it would be in to say "OOO"
  • Exhaling, feel your belly shrink and your lungs deflate
  • As you exhale, relax your shoulders; if you find this hard to do, lift the corners of your mouth as if you were slightly smiling, but still keep your lips pursed to say U (it sounds tough but it’s not that bad).
  • Breathe out on a count of five


Stop after 3-5 minutes.  You are not trying to meditate or go in a trance or fall asleep!

Ideally you do this in a calm environment, but I do it sitting at a desk at work, on the subway, etc.  It doesn’t have to be obvious.  The critical component is to really focus on the breathing, and do it in a calm and methodical way.  The rhythm is important – when you breathe normally, you probably change the pace and depth of your breathing from minute to minute.  Keep it steady.  Feel your chest moving in and out. 

The whole technique may sound funny but it can work wonders.  If you are trying to control stress, this is a great first step.  There are significantly more sophisticated techniques (yoga has a whole series of exercises called ‘pranayama’) but this is a good quick starter.  Give it a shot.  You’ll feel better rested if you do.

(photo by mikelens)