Relax with this Easy Breathing Technique

I’m Dr. Michael Olpin. Let me help you get rid of your stress … for good.

Article Highlights

  • Relaxed breathing involves deep, slow breaths
  • I walk you through a simple guided breathing exercise
  • Restful breathing can help you fall asleep quicker and decrease the stress response in a short amount of time

Have you ever asked yourself, “How’s my breathing?”

It seems like an odd question, but breathing is the foundational component of most relaxation exercises.

Take a minute to sit in a chair with your back straight.

Now put one hand on your chest, and the other one on your stomach.

Which hand moves in and out when you breathe?


Ideally, you would want the hand on your stomach to be the one moving the most when you breathe.

Fight or flight, or stressful breathing, tends to be quicker and shallower and involves muscles in the chest and shoulders that aren’t primarily designed for breathing. Normal, relaxed breathing uses the diaphragm almost exclusively and the air you breathe travels to the deepest parts of your lungs.

When we focus on deep, slow breathing, the result is that we interrupt the stress response and return to a more natural, healthier state of being.

If you watch a very young baby sleeping, you will notice that she breathes so that her stomach moves in and out. The chest doesn’t move at all. Animals breathe this natural way when they are at rest as well. On the other hand, people with chronic stress tend to breathe either exclusively with their chest or with their stomach and chest simultaneously.

Try This Simple Exercise

Begin by closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing. Don’t try to change anything yet, just tune into your rhythmic breathing pattern. Keep your attention on your breath. If you notice yourself thinking of other things, gently bring our thoughts back to your breathing. You may want to place your hands on your stomach.

After a few minutes of attentive breathing, begin to change your breathing pattern by allowing your breath to go down as deep as possible into the lowest reaches of your lungs. When you do this your stomach will naturally move outward.

Don’t concern yourself with how quickly or slowly you inhale and exhale. Just focus on the depth of your inhalations and the ease of your exhalations. Notice your hands, if they are resting on your stomach, moving out as you inhale and moving back in as you exhale.

To help you maintain your focus on this deep, slow breathing, use this counting method: Start counting backward from twenty (or whatever number you choose). When you inhale, say the number “twenty.” When you exhale, say the word “relax.” Inhale again and say the number “nineteen.” On the next exhalation, say, “relax.” Continue down this way until you reach zero.

If you notice your mind start to wander (it very likely will), gently bring your thoughts back to the relaxing rhythm of your breathing and your counting. Your breathing will naturally become slower and deeper as you do this.

You may increase the effect by holding the breath between the inhalation and exhalation. When you inhale, say the word “twenty.” Hold the breath for three or four seconds. Then begin to exhale slowly. Once all of the air is expelled, pause briefly before your next inhalation.

Benefits of Restful Breathing

People who have trouble falling asleep find this technique very useful in helping them nod off more quickly and remain asleep through the night. Others find that with regular practice, their overall breathing rates go down as their bodies return to their natural relaxed states.

Many of my students have found decreases in their own breathing rate from up to thirty breaths per minute down to five or six per minute as they practice this type of breathing during the semester.

To interrupt the stress response, where your body is tense and tight, and move to a more relaxed and healthier state. This is the purpose of my online course – RELEASE. It is full of breathing exercises, guided relaxations and other techniques to help reduce your stress.

Many people prefer a relaxation download because it has music that drowns out distractions and helps your brain move from the beta brainwave activity to the alpha and other lower levels of brainwaves where optimal relaxation and restorative rest can occur in a short period of time.

It also has directions to help you focus on your breathing which keeps your mind in the here and now, rather than wandering off thinking about future events.

Again, check it out here in my online course RELEASE.

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  1. Scott Nagao

    I tried easy breathing while I was in high school. At first I thought it was a complete waste of time, but the more I did it i noticed that it really was helping

  2. Kirsten Schill

    I love going to my yoga class and I usually can’t wait until the last 5 minutes when we get into a good relaxation/meditation where we mostly focus on our breathing. I am going to try some of these techniques for breathing next time I have class. Thanks for this article; it really made me think about how I breath and what I can do to make it better.

  3. Amber

    I honestly have never tried to use deep breathing in my everyday life. But once I tried it a few times I began to enjoy it! It helped me notice that I normally take very shallow breaths and am most likely not providing my body with as much oxygen as I can. This is a great technique and I will use it more often!

  4. Jess

    I really appreciate the effects of deep breathing. I know when I forget about it at times I get flustered easier.