Proper breathing is a powerful ally for controlling anxiety, focusing and promoting physical and mental well-being.
Six breathing techniques, such as diaphragmatic breathing and breath counting, take only a few minutes and offer lasting benefits.
Advanced techniques, such as alternating and square breathing, combine breathing with other activities to improve focus and calm.
Did you know you have a superpower called “breathing”? Now I know you’re smiling thinking I’m joking and that breathing doesn’t give you any superpowers, and no, I’m dead serious.
We have already talked countless times about how important it is to breath. We must breathe to live, of course, but it is such a natural activity that we end up taking it for granted, neglecting it and practicing it badly. And instead, breathing not only serves you to live but is one of your main allies in controlling anxiety, finding concentration, oxygenating your brain, and activating a great many fundamental biochemical processes in your body. And we take it too much for granted!
II won’t tell you about its importance and the various functions it serves (read here for those) but, assuming you believe me when I say that it is most important to practice it well – you do believe me, right? – I will explain 6 simple exercises to use it to your advantage, that is, to find focus, to calm yourself, to find serenity even on a difficult day.
The beauty of each of these techniques is that they require no special equipment or setting. Most importantly, they commit very few minutes of your time, giving you well-being for many hours in return.
1. Belly breathing
Normally, we are used to “high” breathing, that is, we fill only the upper part of the lungs and take more short breaths. Anxiety and stress have accustomed us to breathing this way, because this is the typical breathing pattern of those who feel breathless. Instead, to recover a deeper and more correct breathing, you’ better use the diaphragm, which is the muscle at the base of the lungs that serves to inflate and deflate them.
How to practice it? You just inhale by inflating your lungs starting from your belly (which must expand) until they are saturated with air up to your shoulders. At this point you can begin emptying them starting from the bottom and working your way to the top. As you may have noticed, you always start from the bottom (belly on inhalation and then diaphragm pushing up on exhalation) and work your way up. Result: you used all your lung capacity and gave yourself a great feeling of well-being.
You can practice even a few of them, perhaps with your eyes closed, for immediate benefit.
2. Breaths count
This is a technique that applies to the above belly breathing the numbering of your breaths. You can choose any sequence you want (10, 20, 30, 50, 100). What’s important is that you use your diaphragm correctly by associating it with counting how many breaths you take.
What is the purpose of counting? To add an element of focus to your attention. Counting in fact challenges your brain: when you engage it in doing it in fact, it cannot back out. If you miscount or forget what point you were at, it means you are still not focused enough. In that case…restart from the beginning :)
3. Progressive relaxation
We started from the simple diaphragmatic breath and added counting to it. Now we also introduce an additional physical element: your body.
Sit in a comfortable position, place the soles of your feet on the floor so that they fit snugly, close your eyes and start breathing using only your nose. Now begin to stiffen your feet when you inhale and relax them when you exhale.
The effectiveness of this technique is related to the fact that it shapes relaxation: you “see” and “feel” it through the muscles in your feet that concentrate tension (inhalation) and let it go (exhalation).
4. Alternating breathing
To do this you have to breathe through your nose. It is called “alternating” because they alternate, precisely, the nostrils. How to perform it? It’s so easy: plug one nostril with your finger and inspire from the free one, pause, plug the one you inhaled from, clear the one that was plugged and exhale. Repeat five times.
This exercise takes very little time (and you can repeat it even more than five times); it quickly brings you to focus on your body, thanks to your breathing.
The only drawback is that you cannot practice it when you have a cold!
5. Matching breathing
This one has a harder name than it is to practice. Shall I explain it to you? It involves counting the same number of times when both inhaling and exhaling. Type:
- Inhale: 1, 2, 3, 4
- Exhale: 1, 2, 3, 4
Of course you can also stretch the count to 5 or 6 or as far as you can hold. The important thing is that the inhalation lasts (numerically speaking) as long as the exhalation.
As you have seen from the previous techniques, this one also associates the act of breathing with another activity (counting) that requires concentration.
In all cases, the purpose is to regain a natural and fundamental ability, giving you calm, focus and well-being. In a few minutes, with very little effort.
6. Square breathing
Another very simple and effective breathing technique that combines the ability to imagine a shape (guess which one?) with breathing.
To practice, close your eyes and visualize a square: each side corresponds to an action:
- First side: inhale
- Second side: hold your breath
- Third side: exhale
- Fourth side: hold your breath
How long does each stage last? As much as you want: 2, 3, 4 seconds. It is clear that since there are two phases in which you must hold your breath each phase has a maximum duration relative to your ability to remain apnea.