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Deep Breathing for Stress Relief -- Relaxation Exercises

Updated on January 27, 2013

Deep Breathing for Stress Management

An introduction to breathing exercises for stress reduction and a quick guide to free breathing exercises online, including relaxation, visualization and meditation techniques from university health centers and Harvard Medical School. The stress response involves all the ways your body prepares to deal with danger. Your stress response can result in high blood pressure, suppress your immune system and contribute to anxiety and depression, the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide reports. Through breathing exercises, you can reverse the stress response. Learn stress management and simple exercises you can use for reducing stress at home, at work and even while driving.

Meditation by h.koppdelaney Hartwig HKD
Meditation by h.koppdelaney Hartwig HKD | Source

March 2012 Update: Daily Deep Breathing Meditation Tips

  1. Take 10 slow, deep breaths before getting out of bed. Deep breathing provides oxygen to your brain and has a calming, centering effect.
  2. Perform a yoga practice, such as the Tibetan five rites from "The Ancient Secret of the Fountain of Youth" or the salutation to the sun. (See sidebar) Performing a series of movements that improve circulation, flexibility and deepen breathing help you to start the day relaxed and in a grounded state.
  3. Pause to breathe during your work day. Take breathing breaks outside as often as possible, or simply shut your eyes at your desk or between tasks and take three or more complete, cleansing breaths.
  4. Set up a meditation place -- or two -- where you live. For example, place a cushion or seiza bench in a calm area of your home and one in your garden. A seiza bench is a low bench for kneeling that supports your body and helps you keep your back comfortable during meditation.
  5. Pause when you notice tension. Practice deep breathing with measured breaths: take three slow, deep breaths, counting to 10 on the inhale and the exhale.

Relaxation Response

Learning to breathe more deeply and use breath exercises to relax offers one of the simplest ways to reduce stress. Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiologist, developed techniques for triggering the relaxation response during the 70s at Harvard Medical School.

Many college health centers, community education centers, senior centers, hospitals and fitness centers include courses or workshops in stress-reduction and deep breathing exercises. Some workshops are free or low-cost. Similar resources online offer free instruction in deep breathing exercises.

Deep Breathing

Learning a group of breathing exercises offers you a variety of ways to relax. Short sessions help you recharge. When you have more time you can practice visualization and meditation with breathing exercises. Loyola University Maryland's Health Services website contains numerous links to stress-reduction and breathing exercise information. The site's Relaxation and Self-Care page focuses on teaching several breathing techniques in written form along with tips for stress-reduction. The group of exercises gives you a foundation of breathing exercises to practice.

The exercises include observing the breath, reverse breath -- starting from the exhalation, deep breathing using body awareness and visualization, counting breath to learn measured breathing, and meditation.


Kansas State University Counseling Services has a free download of a deep breathing audio file. The website provides a text version as well. This deep breathing exercise combines deep breathing with visualization -- the practice of creating mental pictures to aid in relaxation. This exercise induces calm.

The breathing audio session from University of North Carolina Chapel Hill come in streaming audio or downloadable MP3 versions at no charge. This relaxation exercise guides you to slow your breathing and take deep abdominal breaths, focusing on the physical sensations of breathing deeply. Learning to distinguish between the stress response of shallow, upper chest breathing and the relaxation response of deep breathing from the belly helps you to relax more in day-to-day situations.

Relaxation Deep Breathing Tips

Make a recording of yourself reading the exercise slowly and practice with the recording.

Use awareness to practice breath control during your day. Notice when your breathing becomes shallow. Take a series of 10 slow deep breaths once each hour at the computer.

Practicing meditation, yoga, tai chi, qigong or martial arts increases breathing awareness and develops deeper breathing. These practices can help to improve your body awareness and promote greater relaxation throughout your day.

Select a place to practice breathing exercises or meditation. For example, practice in the garden or a quiet area of your home.

Don't use relaxation or visualization audio while driving.


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