Breathing Exercises for Natural Anxiety Relief, Pain Control and More

Most of the time you don’t have to worry about breath­ing – it will hap­pen by itself. But some­times you can give your­self a men­tal or phys­i­cal boost by pay­ing atten­tion to this most basic of body functions.

Breath­ing exer­cises can be used for relax­ation, relief of anx­i­ety, pain con­trol, and improved self-awareness.

Here are a few of my favorite breath­ing exer­cises, along with a few point­ers about how to get the most from them.


Most peo­ple have it back­wards. Deep breath­ing is gen­er­ally believed to be a good thing, but nine times out of ten if I ask a patient to “breathe deeply,” they ini­ti­ate a pro­longed inhale. Instead, empha­size the exhale.

Some of the many rea­sons to focus on breath­ing out instead of in:

  • Phys­i­o­log­i­cal – you get more bang for your buck gas-exchange-wise if you purge a few more mil­li­liters of dead air that’s sit­ting in the deep­est recesses of your lungs.
  • Mus­cu­lar – you engage your abdom­i­nal core and sta­bi­lize your pos­ture when you breathe out.
  • Psy­cho­log­i­cal – anx­i­ety is accom­pa­nied by hold­ing the lungs in an over-inflated state. (Try it your­self – take a sharp breath in and hold it. Anx­i­ety kicks in auto­mat­i­cally.) I’ve rarely met a per­son who needed extra help to be anxious.

Try this exer­cise: With each breath, pro­long the dura­tion of the exhale. When you feel you’ve reached the end of your out-breath, allow your­self to gen­tly con­tinue breath­ing out for a few extra seconds.

Even if you feel you have noth­ing left to exhale, it’s okay to just pause the breath and allow a sec­ond or two to float by before ini­ti­at­ing the next inhale.

Breathe Into Your Eyelids

Remem­ber the scene in the movie Bull Durham when they teach the pitch­ing phe­nom to breathe through his eyelids?

It’s clearly non­sen­si­cal (though it does divert his thoughts from the stress of pitch­ing so he won’t over-think his performance).

But, legit­i­mately, you can use your breath to expand any area of the body, bring­ing more aware­ness and relax­ation to it. Try this exer­cise for the low back:

With each inhale, pic­ture the air flow­ing into the low back, mak­ing it wider and more relaxed. You can even place your hand on your low back, so that when you breathe in you can feel the low back expanding.

Lit­er­ally, the air does not flow into your low back. The only place air goes when you breathe is your lungs. But when your lungs fill with air, they press out against all their neigh­bor­ing organs and the trunk as a whole has to respond.

Here is where you have a choice.

Your trunk is a three-dimensional object with a front, back, sides, top and bot­tom. Depend­ing on your aware­ness, pos­ture, and mus­cle con­trol, you can choose the way that your trunk responds when you breathe in.

You can choose to accom­mo­date by expand­ing in the low back. Or into the pelvic floor. Or the breast bone. Or any com­bi­na­tion of these.

The only thing you can’t choose is to be totally rigid.

With a lit­tle imag­i­na­tion, you can use this tech­nique to relax and relieve pain in any body part. If you have a wrist prob­lem, for instance, it’s easy to pic­ture your trunk expand­ing as you breathe, then it in turn press­ing out against its sur­round­ings. The chain of expan­sion, begin­ning with an inhale, can directly (though sub­tly) spread down your arm and out to your wrist.

Just Pay Atten­tion — Breath and Men­tal Health

Some­times life seems out of con­trol. Noth­ing is going the way you want it. One response to feel­ing that life is out of con­trol is anx­i­ety. Unless you’ve been sit­ting on a vel­vet cush­ion your whole life eat­ing bon­bons, you know about anxiety.

Another response to feel­ing that life is out of con­trol is depres­sion. If you’re feel­ing that there’s noth­ing you can do that makes a dif­fer­ence, that’s pretty depressing.

But there’s one thing that’s always under your com­fort­able con­trol, and that’s your abil­ity to pay atten­tion to you breath.

Sim­ply pay atten­tion to the rise and fall of your breath. Don’t try to deepen it or slow it down – just notice what it does on its own. Of course, your breath pat­tern will start to change auto­mat­i­cally as soon as you begin to draw your atten­tion to it. But don’t try to breathe par­tic­u­larly deeply or in any spe­cific pattern.

Spend up to ten min­utes attend­ing to the rhythm of your breath. Unless you’re a triple black belt yogic med­i­ta­tion cham­pion, your mind will wan­der off from time to time. Many times. That’s okay. Gen­tly bring your aware­ness back to your breath and con­tinue to let it flow.


Deepen Your Body of Knowledge

The myth of deep breathing

Gain con­trol over anx­i­ety and depression


Leave a Reply

Copyright © 2010-2014 Your Body of Knowledge. Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. Don’t be a dope – no one should rely on a website to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. And if it doesn’t feel right to you, don’t do it.