Breath control — it’s not just a vocal technique for professional singers or a term reserved for yogis. It’s an effective and important tool that helps us reset our internal systems after experiencing stress.
Most of us probably don’t even give it a fleeting thought; we breathe automatically out of necessity. But we shouldn’t treat our breathing patterns like any old habit.
We should approach our breathing as an important element in our daily health.
The Benefits of Breath Control
Stress puts the body on high alert; it activates our internal systems because our mind is telling our body we’re in danger. Unfortunately, the body sometimes can’t differentiate from attacking predator or looming deadline.
Luckily, there is a strong two-way connection between the stress response and our breath. That’s why we can combat stress, anxiety, and tension by simply taking a deep breath.
However, stress also makes it harder for us to breathe. As we panic, we engage in shallow breathing and start relying exclusively on our upper lungs to get more air in, quickly.
We need to remember to breathe in deeply, not quickly, to activate the relaxation response.
Deep, controlled breathing requires our mental focus and also forces us to hone in on our body. Deep breathing relieves stress by making us mindful of the emotions running through us. It can also bring clarity, boost our mood, increase energy, and acts as a natural painkiller to help us get back on the right track.
It’s hard to remember these benefits when we’re in the middle of a stressful moment. But it’s relatively simple to learn breath control; we just need to practice the breathing techniques as often as we can.
Breath Control Starts With the Diaphragm
There are many types of breathing exercises to choose from. Many of these exercises are rooted in the same practice — deep breathing from your diaphragm.
The diaphragm is located in the space beneath your ribcage and above your stomach muscles. It’s helpful to imagine the space as a balloon that fills up with oxygen with each inhale.
Breathing from your diaphragm can feel a bit awkward at first but it helps take the pressure off your lungs and gives up much more oxygen with each deep breath.
Many consider diaphragmatic breathing as proper breathing.
If you can get familiar with this type of breathing, you’ll find it easier to engage in any type of breathing exercise.
Practice breathing from your diaphragm by doing the following exercise.
Place your hand under your ribs and above your belly. When you breathe in, try to push it out using your abdominal muscles. You’ll feel like you’re bloated but that means you’re doing it accurately. As you exhale, slowly and gently push your hand down, deflating that area. Feel the breath come out as you push.
Repeat this simple exercise until you become comfortable with the feeling.
Breath Control Exercises for Stress Relief
Once you’ve gotten used to the feeling of bringing awareness to your breath and shifting your technique to come from your abdomen, you can try any of the following specific techniques to help bring control to your breath and stress.
The coherent (or resonant) breathing technique is known not only to bring relaxation but help with balance as well. This technique will involve counting for each exhale and inhale.
Start by lying down and getting comfortable. Close your eyes to help you focus just on the breath.
With your mouth closed, breathe in deeply through your nose for six seconds. Don’t try to inhale as much as you can; keep your breath gentle. Once you get to the count of six, begin your exhale and breathe out, counting to six as well.
The goal of this breath control exercise is to establish a rate of five breaths per minute.
If inhaling or exhaling for six seconds feels like a big jump, try cutting the count in half — breathe in and out for three seconds. Once you’re comfortable, try with a larger inhalation to be able to hold the count. Make sure it stays gentle.
Practice this exercise as much as you can; we suggest trying for at least 10 to 20 minutes per day.
Not one to lie around while practicing something new? Try the Roll (or Rock and Roll) breathing technique. This is done in a sitting position and can help strengthen your core.
Start by sitting on the floor or on the edge of a chair. In either position, be sure you are sitting up straight and have good posture to protect your back.
Put your hands on your stomach. When you inhale, curl forward as you expand your belly. On your exhale, curl forward but lean back as you gently push down on your belly to empty your breath. Use your nose to inhale and your mouth to exhale.
Repeat this exercise for five or so minutes and you should feel a decrease in stress levels.
Energizing Lion’s Breath
This breathing technique is a fun one that vocalists use to practice creating sounds with the power of their breath.
Find a comfortable position to sit or stand. If standing, make sure your feet are hip-width apart and your knees are relaxed. Breathe in deeply through your nose and fill your diaphragm with air.
When you feel that you can’t fit any more air in, open your mouth up as big as you can and exhale. On your exhale, make an “AHHHH” sound. Repeat as many times as you need until you feel calm.
Practice Makes Perfect
When we’re in the middle of a stressful situation, it can be hard to take control of anything — emotions, thoughts, and breath included. That’s why it’s important to practice these breath control exercises as often as we can. When the moment comes, we are able to fight against the stress and remember to find our breath.
It takes effort to change automatic habits like breathing. That’s where devices like the Spire Stone or Health Tag can come in. It can sense when your body starts to activate its stress response and gently reminds you that you have the power to take back control.