Feeling underslept or overworked and having difficulty relaxing? There are many different ways to calm your body including yoga and massage. But using just the breathing techniques used in yoga, meditation, and from a therapist are very effective ways to relieve stress, all you need are your healthy lungs and about 10 minutes or less. Here is a list of some excellent stress relief breathing exercises.

1. Nadi Shodhana or “Alternate Nostril Breathing”

Woman practices pranayama in lotus pose on the beach


How it’s done: Alternate nostril breathing is a very simple yet useful technique that can be used by a beginner or seasoned yoga practitioner. It is one of my favorite breathing techniques and the first one I learned. If you are feeling stressed just follow these steps and you will be on your way to a calm and relaxed state.

First, find a comfortable seat, and come into the easy pose. You can sit on a blanket or a pillow. Use your right thumb to softly close your right nostril and then inhale through your left nostril. At the peak of inhalation take your ring finger and close your left nostril. Then pause. Open your right nostril and exhale slowly through your right nostril. As the right nostril is open inhale slowly and then close it with the thumb. Then pause. Now exhale through your left nostril and inhale and then pause. Then move to your right nostril. Repeat this pattern for five to ten sets.

When it works best: You can use the breathing technique whenever you need to focus or re-energize.  Don’t try this one before bed because it is said to make people feel more awake.

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

Some of the benefits of pranayama include:

  • It provides balance to both the left and right hemispheres of the brain
  • It reduces anxiety and stress
  • It lowers the heart rate which relieves tension
  • It can revitalize a tired mind and body
  • It regulates the cooling and warming cycles of the body
  • It prepares you for deeper meditation

2. Sama Vritti or “Equal Breathing”

How it’s done: Scientific studies have shown that the equal breathing technique can actually reduce stress and promote calmness with the body. This technique can be used for most ages so even your children may benefit from it. 

Begin by inhaling through the nose and count to four, then exhale for another count of four. More advanced yoga practitioners aim for six to eight counts.

When it works best: One of the best things about this technique is you can practice equal breathing anytime and anywhere. It is very effective before bed because it can help you fall asleep by taking your mind off of things or even calm racing thoughts.

Level of difficulty: Beginner

Some of the benefits of pranayama include:

  • It can help with stress reduction
  • It can increase energy
  • It can help provide a deeper lung capacity
  • It can heighten the ability to concentrate

3. Abdominal Breathing Technique

How it’s done: Not only is this exercise simple but it is great for strengthening our diaphragm muscles which will lead to better breathing overall. 

To perform this exercise, sit comfortably in a chair with your knees bent and your shoulder and neck relaxed. Place on hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Then take a deep breath through the nose making sure your diaphragm (not your chest) inflates with enough air so that your lungs stretch.

You can also choose to lie down, with a pillow under your head and one under your knees.

Six to 10 deep, slow breaths per 5 to 10 minutes each day is best in order to experience a reduction in your heart rate and blood pressure reducing stress.

If you ever feel lightheaded, stop immediately.

When it works best: You can use this exercise right before a stressful event such as an exam.

Level of difficulty: Beginner

  • It increases the supply of oxygen and nutrients to cells throughout the body
  • It helps increase the supply of blood and nutrients to muscle blood and bones
  • It relaxes muscle spasm and relieves tension
  • It releases and reduces muscular tension that eventually may cause structural problems
  • It supports muscle growth and provides energy

4. Progressive Muscle Relaxation

How it’s done:  There is nothing worse than stressed and achy muscles. Well, this technique teaches you to un-tense and relax each muscle group. It is very simple and only takes two steps.

Find a quiet and comfortable area. Wear comfortable clothing and no shoes. A reclining armchair is best. Now just sit and let your body go loose. You can also lie down, but this may make you fall asleep. Before you begin take five deep breaths.

This works in two steps. Step one is building tension to a specific muscle group. Step two is relaxing those tense muscles. Work from your feet and toes and move up to your knees, thighs, glutes, chest, arms, hands, neck, jaw, and eyes.  You inhale as you tense your muscle and hold it for five seconds. Then you exhale as you relax. You rest for 15 seconds before moving to the next muscle.

When it works best: This technique also allows you the freedom to practice it at home, at your desk, or on the road. Remember one thing, if you are uncomfortable holding your breath for five seconds you can do less, do what makes you comfortable.

Level of difficulty: Beginner

Some of the benefits of progressive muscle relaxation include:

  • It  has the ability to control stress and anxiety
  • It helps relieve insomnia
  • It can help reduce symptoms of certain types of chronic pain.

5. Guided Visualization

How it’s done: This technique is as simple as simply heading to your happy place. You can use a coach, therapist, or even a recording as a guide. Happify.com provides guided visualization practices you can use and they provide an image and a recording to help guide you through this process. 

You are to breathe deeply as you focus on pleasant, positive images that can replace all negative thoughts. It helps to keeps your mind from settling on a negative dialogue, which is what usually is known for keeping you stressed.

When it works best: The best part is you can do this anywhere you can safely close your eyes, so driving is out of the picture. You can do this before bed to help you sleep better.

Level of difficulty: Intermediate.

Some of the benefits of guided visualization include:

  • It can be used to promote relaxation, which can lower blood pressure
  • It can be used to help reach goals such as weight or to quit smoking cigarettes
  • It can manage pain and promote healing

6. Kapalabhati or “Skull Shining Breath”

How it’s done: This technique is great for bringing sunshine to your day. Bhati means to shine or illuminate and  Kapalbhati cleans the cranial sinuses. This one takes a little getting used to but once you do, it is worth it.

This technique is a repetition of long and slow inhales, followed by quick exhales that are powerful and generated by your lower belly.

When it works best: This is great to do when you first wake up. It is like a morning cup of joe because it wakes up the brain and warms you up.

Level of difficulty: Advanced

Benefits of skull shining breathing include:

  • It can be used for weight loss
  • It can help cures constipation
  • It can be used to treat breast cancer
  • It improves blood circulation
  • It can strengthen stomach muscles
  • It can be used as a natural remedy for nerve weakness
  • It can increase immunity power
  • It can be used to increases sex stamina and sperm count.


Breathing techniques are a great way to decrease stress, reduce anxiety, and improve our sleep. Our breath is easy to access and control so it is one of the best natural tools for relaxation.

Although these are natural breathing techniques, do consult your doctor if you have a lung condition such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma. Speak with your healthcare provider before starting any type of breathing exercise.

Do you know and/or use any of these breathing techniques. Are there any I missed? Share your thoughts below.

10 thoughts on “Stress Relief Breathing Exercises – 6 Techniques to Calm Your Body and Mind”

  1. I really like your posts, Melissa. Your articles are fully loaded with detailed information. Sometimes due to overwork I feel very tired and stressful and want some relaxing exercises. This time I am gonna use these stress releasing exercises. Keep sharing such informative posts.

    1. Hi Sarah,
      I am glad you found something useful, it really helps, as mothers we can use all the help we can get. Thank you for commenting, I completely humbled by your kind words. 🙂

  2. This is some great info. I am a scuba diver and a free diver and I use some of these techniques and some variations of them like numbers 2&3 to control my breathing which is important when diving. I actually tell my students that yoga is great training for diving, especially the breathing exercises. This is great, I can now use these techniques to relax as well. Thanks very much for the info. 🙂


    1. Hi Carl,
      That is really cool. I love knowing that breathing exercises can benefit you in different walks of your life. You are doing great things for your lungs and improving your breathing which will get you far in your diving and now you have another reason to use these techniques. I am glad you found the info useful and thanks so much for sharing your story! 😀

  3. Wow, that is so easy to do! I love how small adjustments and exercises can make your day so much easier and improve the way we feel! And you know what, if we feel better, we end up being nicer to other people what makes them feel better as well!

    Thanks for sharing that! Good stuff

    1. Hi Manny,
      Great point how we feel affects how we treat others so taking care of ourselves has double importance. I am glad you found the information useful, and thanks so much for your comment! 😀

  4. I loved this article! I am so in love with breathing techniques and I agree with your comment about Mothers needing all the help we can get! I have two boys under the age of 3! Thank you!

    1. Yes we do need all the help we can get and I am glad you found this article useful. You are welcome 😀

  5. I’ve heard of alternate nostril breathing, but not of the “shining skull breathing”. very cool! We can really regulate so much by mastering and tracking the pace of our breath. It is very little in life that can’t simply improve by being breathed through. thanks for the info!

    1. Alternate nostril breathing is very effective and I was also new to shinning skull breathing. I agree breathing can help us regulate many aspects of our lives and it is free. I am glad you found this info useful. Thanks for the comment!

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