Breathwork and Other Body Relaxation Techniques

Did you know?


70% of our diseases are linked to our lifestyle choices.


Breath is an important bridge between body and mind and between mind and spirit. It is our vital life force. However, most of us do not breathe correctly or are not aware of how muscle tightening (or armoring) can affect our breathing. If we are tense in any area of our body—chest, shoulders, ankles, etc., this can restrict how we breathe. In fact, it has been suggested that throughout the course of our lives the easy, uninhibited breathing that we enjoyed as infants gradually erodes. Beginning with our diaphragm, we begin to tighten our muscles, and the elegant process of expansion, contraction, and equilibrium is compromised.


Many types of exercise, meditation, and relaxation techniques involve breathwork—a conscious awareness of your inhalations and exhalations and proper breathing technique.


Deep Breathing Awareness Technique 

This simple method can be practiced anywhere, and involves breathing deeply from the abdomen. Most of us breathe very shallowly, from the upper chest. (You can check this by placing one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. When you breathe, the hand on your stomach should rise, while the hand on your chest should barely move.)


The reason deep abdominal breathing is important is that we bring in more oxygen that way, and the more oxygen we take in, the more relaxed we feel. Oxygen is especially important to your brain, which demands up to 20% of your total oxygen intake. In addition, deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness. Taking a few moments to quietly reconnect with your body can alleviate anxiety and clear away the cobwebs.


Here’s how deep breathing works:

  • Sit comfortably with your back straight.
  • Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
  • Breathe in deeply through your nose, being aware of the movements of your hands.
  • Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little.
  • Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls. Count slowly as you exhale.
  • If you find it difficult to breathe from your abdomen while sitting up, try lying on the floor. Put a small book on your stomach, and try to breathe so that the book rises as you inhale and falls as you exhale.


Other Body Relaxation Exercises

Most of us move through our days with little awareness of our bodies, emotions, or how we are breathing. Unless we injure ourselves, we don’t pay much attention to the subtle physical and emotional shifts that happen in the moment. Below are several easy-to-do relaxation techniques that allow you to monitor and manage how you feel. 


The Quieting Response

The American Institute of Stress (AIS) recommends this simple technique for circumventing acute stress responses. “First ‘smile inwardly’ with your eyes and mouth and release the tension in your shoulders. This is a powerful muscle release in the places where most people hold their muscles tense. Then imagine holes in the soles of your feet. As you take a deep breath in, visualize hot air flowing through these holes moving slowly up your legs, through your abdomen and filling your lungs. Relax your muscles sequentially as the hot air moves through them up your body. When you exhale reverse the visualization so you ‘see’ hot air coming out the same holes in your feet. Repeat throughout the day whenever you need to feel calm and relaxed. Discover more relaxation techniques recommended by AIS


Checking in with Yourself—The Body Scan

One easy and quick way to be cognizant of where you are in the “here-and-now” is the body scan. Body scans and other kinds of guided relaxation exercises can be effective at improving our awareness of ourselves in the world and whether we are stressed, psychologically or physically.


In this practice we are able to arrive at a sleep-like state where there is an increase in alpha and theta wave production. Though what we are experiencing is similar to sleeping, there is a part of us that remains lucid and aware. This technique is an excellent stress management tool. EEG studies have shown that an increase in alpha brain waves is directly linked with relaxing the central nervous system. It can help to reduce blood pressure and the production of stress hormones.


Body scans can be done anytime, anywhere. Here’s an easy one to try:


1. Wearing comfortable clothes, lie down on your back.


2. Close your eyes and take a few minutes to relax.


3. Focus on the natural flow of your breath, be aware of the air as it enters and leaves your lungs


4. Slowly tense the muscles in your right foot.


5. Then relax the foot. Notice how it feels. Are you experiencing any lingering tension, tingling or temperature changes?


6. Slowly and unhurriedly move from the right foot to the left, and then progressively to each muscle group in the body—toes to your feet, calves, thighs, etc.


7. Proceed to focus on each body part or muscle group, both the front of the body and back, ending with the throat, jaw, tongue, face, and brow.


One typical body scan sequence follows this order:


  • Right foot
  • Left foot
  • Right calf
  • Left calf
  • Right thigh
  • Left thigh
  • Hips and buttocks
  • Stomach
  • Chest
  • Right arm
  • Left arm
  • Right hand
  • Left hand
  • Face, including throat, jaw and tongue


Passive Deep Relaxation through Music

Listening to relaxing music for 10 to 15 minutes a day, particularly classical music (Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi) has been shown to help release deep-seated stress and to recharge a tired brain. Sit or lie down, turn on the music, and close your eyes. Take three slow deep breaths (in through your nose and out through your mouth), relax and let go. 



HeartMath offers emWave technologies for stress relief and self-monitoring.