Turns out, the age-old advice to calm down and “just breathe” may be just a touch oversimplified. The good news is that your breath is an incredibly powerful tool that you can learn to harness to calm yourself down in the moment—any time, anywhere. Still, for the strongest effect, it helps to be specific about how you breathe. That’s why we pulled together these three breathing techniques that’ll bring you relief in five minutes or less.
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Why: In this exercise, you’ll hold your breath for seven seconds which helps to replenish your organs and tissues with oxygen, according to Healthline, and can be considered a “natural tranquilizer for your nervous system.”
How: After exhaling completely, inhale through your nose for four counts. Hold your breath for seven counts, then exhale through your mouth for eight counts. Watch Dr. Andrew Weil demonstrate here.
Why: Feeling calm, compared to anxious, has a lot to do with your heart rate. So it makes sense, then, that a breathing exercise designed to optimize your heart rate variability would help you to feel more chilled out. Called coherent breathing, the technique involves breathing in and out of your nose equally. And a 2017 study in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that doing so for 12 weeks and in combination with a yoga practice went so far as to reduce depression.
How: Close your lips so that you’re breathing in and out only through your nose. The goal is to take five full breaths per minute, breathing in and out for about six seconds each. However, you can begin simply by breathing in and out for four seconds each and then slowly start working your way up to longer inhales and exhales, always keeping them the same length.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Why: Your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is also known as the “rest and digest” system and it’s in direct opposition to your “fight or flight” system. Alternate nostril breathing, also known as Nadi Shodhana, helps activate the PNS. According to Furthermore, Nadi Shodhana translates to “flow” and “purification” in Sanskrit.
How: Use your left ring finger to close off your right nostril. Inhale through the open nostril for five seconds, then release the other nostril while closing off the open one with the thumb of the left hand. Exhale through the now-open nostril for five seconds. Switch sides for the next breath in. Continue alternating for a minute or longer.