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Have a few things on your mind? Feeling jittery, anxious, or irritable? You can effect real change in how you’re feeling by making a simple adjustment to something you’re already doing about 20,000 times a day. Try these three intentional breathing exercises the next time you feel your heart rate increase, and exhale that stress away. 

Box (Square) Breathing

Delightfully easy to learn and practice, box breathing, also known as square breathing, can be done anytime, anywhere to help induce the body’s relaxation response. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, try it out! Box breathing can help to settle your mind and your body for rest. The technique is simple:

  • Exhale all the air in your lungs.

  • Inhale through your nose for a count of four.

  • Hold the air in your lungs for a count of four.

  • Exhale through your mouth for a count of four. 

  • Rest for a count of four. 

It may help to settle your thoughts if you picture a square in your mind and envision a dot moving along each line of the square with every step in the exercise.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

If we’re going about our day and don’t focus any attention on our breathing, it’s very natural to slide into a pattern of shallow chesty breathing that doesn’t make full use of our lungs and does nothing to counteract anxieties that may crop up. Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, shakes us out of that pattern by bringing intentional focus to using our lungs. Practiced regularly, belly breathing can help to strengthen lungs and make them work more efficiently. Since it’s all about engaging the belly, it’s best practiced lying down. To try belly breathing, follow these steps:

  • Lie down on a comfortable surface.

  • Place your hands gently on your belly.

  • Inhale through your nose, allowing your breath to expand the belly.

  • Exhale through your mouth for twice as long.

4-7-8 Breathing

Another form of intentional breathing that can help to settle your mind and body, 4-7-8 Breathing offers a simple, repeatable structure that’s easy to remember. This technique involves breathing in for four seconds, holding the breath for seven seconds, and exhaling for eight seconds. You might also try this technique at bedtime to help clear your mind. The steps are:

  • Exhale all the air in your lungs.

  • Inhale through your nose for a count of four.

  • Hold the air in your lungs for a count of seven.

  • Exhale forcefully through your mouth while pursing your lips, making a “whoosh” sound, for a count of eight.

Repeat this cycle as needed until you’re feeling calmed and clear-headed.

Extra Notes & Tips

The key to all intentional breathing exercises is activating the body’s natural relaxation response. Studies show that deep abdominal breathing increases the supply of oxygen to the brain and stimulates the nervous system, which brings on a feeling of calm. So, more important than which technique you try is just that you practice some form of deep breathing!

We’re seeing more research and helpful guides coming out all the time to encourage intentional breathing, like this article from Harvard Medical School on the benefits of breath control. There’s also a new wave of tech that can lead you into stress-reducing breathing exercises. Check out the Breathe app, Breathe2Relax app, and Universal Breathing app to start.

Looking for more tips on how to live a healthy life in Jacksonville? Check out our blog for recipes, exercises, and more.