Breathing is so simple. It’s an automatic process that we don’t even realize we’re doing. Yet experts say this effortless activity can also be a tool to help you calm down, get energized, boost your mood and more.
It may sound a bit woo-woo, but science backs this up. Researchers found that how we breathe impacts how we feel. Think about it: When you’re anxious, you tend to take shorter, faster breaths. After that fearful or tense situation is over, you exhale a long sigh of relief.
Internally, each time you inhale, you activate the sympathetic nervous system — our “fight or flight” response. And each time you exhale, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system — our “rest and digest” response.
“By extending your inhale or exhale, you can manage your emotional and psychological state,” says Dan Brulé, author of the forthcoming book “Just Breathe” and a master breathworker with 40 years of experience.
To Calm Down
“Anytime you double the length of your exhale, it gives your body the signal that you’re relaxed,” says Erin Telford, a breathwork teacher, acupuncturist and reiki master in New York.
Inhale through your nose for two counts, and exhale through your mouth for four counts. Keep doing this until you start to feel “loosened up and less charged,” Telford says. Then increase the length of both breaths so you inhale for three counts and exhale for six counts. When ready, shift to inhaling for four counts and exhale for eight counts.
To Increase Energy
For more energy, you want to focus on your inhale. As you observe your breath, you will get a sense of how much air you normally breathe in. You want to double that capacity, Brulé explains, so you’ll actually inhale twice.
For this exercise, breathe through your mouth. Inhale, then immediately inhale again without stopping (the double-inhale should be one smooth action). Then exhale.
To Release Anger (in a Good Way)
“Instead of shouting or yelling, vent your anger through your breath,” Brulé advises. You can do this through your nose (yogis call this “breath of fire”) or mouth.
Sharply inhale and exhale for 20–30 rapid breaths. Then take a long inhale and let out a big sigh. You’ll naturally relax your jaw, shoulders, neck and any other spots of tension as you exhale like this.
To Regulate Stress
If you want to feel in control for a presentation, when you’re stuck in traffic or even for going to the dentist, use “box breathing.” It’s a trick that Brulé teaches Navy SEALs to use before going into a high-stakes mission. This will keep your mind in the present moment instead of slipping into anxiety or running away with thoughts, he says.
Inhale for four counts. Hold that breath for four counts. Exhale for four counts. Hold for another four counts. Keep repeating this pattern. You can do this through your nose if you’re already calm, in your nose and out your mouth to regulate energy or all through your mouth to channel the energy of the stress, Brulé instructs.
To Boost Your Mood
This one may take some practice, but if you do it, “you will be buzzing within minutes,” Brulé says.
Think of your breath like a plane taking off. Start by inhaling a tiny stream of breath through your mouth and gradually accelerate and intensify that inhale, then immediately exhale through your mouth without the slightest pause. That acceleration and intensification will give you a natural high.