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Breathing Exercises to Improve Mindfulness and Reduce Stress

I have had respiratory issues for as long as I can remember. As a kid I was constantly getting bronchitis and pneumonia. Well into my adult life, I was diagnosed with cough variant asthma, which basically means I have coughing fits instead of wheezing attacks. Unfortunately the inhalers I was prescribed only made my condition worse.

Enter breathing exercises! I've determined I have this condition because I never learned to breath properly. As a kid, I always gulped air in through my mouth. The mouth is not meant for breathing, it's meant for eating. The nose is meant for breathing!

I started breathing exercises to improve my respiratory health, but there are many other benefits to these exercises. Breathing exercises are another practice you can adopt to help you become more mindful. I've certainly noticed this in my practice. Different forms of these exercises are used the world over for many different purposes, from meditation to deep-sea diving preparation.


Here I'll share three breathing exercises with you, but there are dozens. If you don’t like these, feel free to look for others. I'm a huge fan of the Oxygen Advantage app and use it as often as I can. Check out the YouTube channel where you'll find a wealth of information beyond what I cover here.


Mindful Breathing

This is the most basic form of breathing exercise and is often used to train people to be mindful. It’s also the easiest to do. Find a comfortable spot to sit or lie down. It doesn’t need to be any special location--just someplace that’s also quiet.


Breathe. There’s no need to monitor you’re breathing, no need to breathe deeply or shallowly, and no need to count your breaths. Just breathe naturally. Notice your breathing, the physical process of it, how your chest rises and falls, how your stomach feels, etc. Notice if you are breathing into your chest or your abdominal. You want to aim to breath low into your belly, not high in your chest.


Do this for a minute or two. That’s all there is to it!


Deep Breathing

This breathing exercise is helpful for mindfulness and a host of other issues, from improving focus to releasing stress and anxiety. You can do it anywhere too, and you don’t have to sit or lie down to do so.


Take a slow, long breath, breathing into your belly. Do it slowly and deliberately. Hold your breath for a moment (just a second or two). Now exhale, trying to make the exhale last slightly longer than your inhale. Repeat several times. Notice how this feels as you breathe. You can do this at scheduled times or whenever you feel the need.


Breath Counting

This is a type of breathing exercise that can easily be coupled with either normal or deep breathing. It adds counting into the mix to help you focus and keep your mind from wandering. It also helps break you out of thought loops and cycles of stress and negative thinking.


To do this exercise, simply add counting into one of the other two routines. You can either count to a certain number of breaths or just count until you feel finished or your timer goes off. Try breathing in for four counts, holding for one, then breathing out for six counts. Another variation is box breathing where you breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, breathe out for four counts, hold for another four counts and repeat for thirty seconds to a minute or until you feel calm.

If breathing is difficult for you (like it is for me) you can reduce the number of counts. I find the box breath challenging at four counts each, so I'm working my way up to it. When I try to do four counts each, I usually end up having a coughing fit. Pay attention to your body and adjust as needed.


All of these exercises are fairly straight forward and they will all help you become more mindful and improve the quality of your breathing. They’ll also relieve stress and anxiety. That’s a great bonus, isn’t it? If you do one or more of these regularly, you’ll find it’s easier to be mindful and that you have less stress overall.

Breathing Exercises to Improve Mindfulness and Reduce Stress