How to Reduce Stress through Breathing Exercises

3 Practices to get out of fight-flight & regulate the nervous system

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After a long, stress filled day, it is easy to zone out on a favorite show or movie.

While the quick relief of a temporary escape might feel good in the moment – it’s really not that effective in reducing the damaging effects of stress.


Stress is inevitable & is a natural part of everyday life. It can be a motivator &, in some circumstances, essential to survival.

In fact, our nervous system is wired with 2 modes in order to be able to handle stress:

  • Mode 1 – the sympathetic system – is in charge of preparing the body for stress. This is called fight, flight, freeze or faint mode.
  • Mode 2 – called the parasympathetic system – affects the same functions in the body, but in a different way. This is called rest & digest mode. It is in charge of bringing the body into a relaxed state of calm, so the body can recover & repair.

Stress becomes a problem when we get stuck in fight, flight, freeze or faint mode for extended periods of time & are not taking steps to get into rest & digest mode, where our bodies can recover.

Overtime, stress accumulates. It builds up like a hair in a shower drain, inhibiting the flow of fluid & causing a breeding ground for gunk – if you don’t clear it out.


Luckily, one scientifically proven & effective way to deal with stress is absolutely free & can be practiced anytime, anywhere.

Chances are, you’re doing it right now.

That’s right – Breathing.


More specifically, intentional & focused breathing.

Breathing exercises, aka: Breathwork, have been used to train the nervous system for thousands of years. The yogis call these exercises – pranayama – & have been doing them since 200 BCE.


Recent research confirms that specific patterns of breathing are directly associated with different emotions, & can alter mental & physical states.

Try it out. By simply focusing on your breath & following a certain rhythm, you can change the way you feel.

For example:

???????? inhaling signals the heart to speed up,

???????? while exhaling signals it to slow down.

Something simple, like focusing on lengthening your exhale while agitated, is one, easy way to reduce stress.


With practice, you can improve the way you respond to stress by using breathing patterns that bring the body into a calm & focused state, known as the relaxation response.

You may not be able to control what is happening outside of you, but you CAN control what is going on inside you.

Now, unlike sleeping, the relaxation response occurs through mentally active processes, like breathwork.



How do breathing exercises improve health & well-being?

PHYSICALLY Deep, mindful breathing slows the heart rate, increases the supply of oxygen to the brain & stimulates the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve triggers the parasympathetic nervous system which tells the body it’s time to rest & digest.

MENTALLY: Breathing is largely an unconscious act. But, by directing our attention to how we are breathing – therefore making it a conscious act – we become more in-tune with our body & the present moment. Our focus shifts away from circumstances outside our control & onto something we can control. By taking control of our breath, we begin to take control of our response to the world.


How to begin a breathwork practice:


If you struggle to get your breath into your abdomen & tend to breathe with your chest, START HERE ???????? 5m Breathing Practice to do Everyday 

If you feel comfortable with diaphragmatic breathing, try any of these practices:


Resonant Breathing aka: Coherent Breathing 

A simple technique that has a regulating effect on the nervous system.When practiced regularly – it gets the breath & the heart to sync up.Intention: Find your unique resonance – slow down breathing to 3-7 breaths per minute.


Humming Bee Breath (Bhramari Pranayama)

A yogic technique that is very effective at activating the parasympathetic system & putting the body into rest mode.When practiced regularly – it promotes relaxation & sleep, while reducing occurrences of anxiety, insomnia & panic.Intention: Using the vibrations that come from humming to stimulate vagus nerve function & relax muscle tissue.


Lion’s Breath (Simhasana Pranayama)

A yogi technique that strengthens the lungs & clears out stagnation.When practiced regularly – it relieves tension out of the respiratory system (allowing for deeper breaths) & promotes the circulation & flow required for recovery & repair.Intention: Utilize forceful exhalations through the mouth with tongue extended to release blockages & increase inner strength. Release so you can relax.

Practice accumulates too.

Even short breathing exercises are an effective way to manage stress. The more aware you can become of how you are breathing throughout the day, the more effective your breath will be in altering your mental & physical states. Over the long run, incorporating breathwork into your daily practice will train your nervous system to be more resilient.

With just a few minutes every day, these techniques will increase your vitality & your ability to handle life’s ups & downs.