Get your Brain Health Score (in 4 mins) Take the quiz
Shop
Reviews
My account
Mental well-being

Breathwork: 3 best breathing exercises for a healthy brain

You take 23,040 breaths a day. Use your breath to boost your brain health and reduce chronic stress and anxiety.

Heights
Heights
August 03, 2021
8 min read

Just breathe.” You see this mantra stitched onto throw pillows, emblazoned on the walls of yoga studios, and taught by world-renowned mental health experts and gurus like Thich Nhat Hanh, Dan Brule, and Oprah. 

But what exactly are the mental and physical benefits of a healthy deep-breathing routine, and how can you get started with the best breathing exercises for anxiety, stress, and other common ailments? Take a deep breath and let’s dive into the fascinating medical research surrounding one of the bodily functions most of us take for granted—breathing.

Breathwork 101: scientific benefits of deep breathing

The average adult takes 23,040 breaths every single day. If you’re like most people, you aren’t fully aware of your breath. Yet you do it, day in and day out, without even thinking. 

Deep breathing—sometimes referred to as abdominal breathing, paced respiration, diaphragmatic breathing, or the more colloquial term “belly breathing”—invites you to connect your consciousness to your breath. It’s a practice that manipulates your breathing in a way that brings about well-researched benefits to your spirit, mind, and body.

As Dan Brule, one of the original pioneers of breathwork in the West, once said:

Breath is the link between mind and body. [...] Conscious breathing heightens awareness.

The scientific benefits of breathwork and deep breathing include:

Most, if not all, of these associated health benefits are linked to the underlying fundamental impact that deep breathing has on your mental health: a significant reduction in stress.

Your breath tends to become more rapid and shallow as you encounter challenges or stressful situations, and this feeds into your natural fight-or-flight response. By slowing and deepening your breath, you calm your central nervous system and help alleviate the psychological burden of chronic stress. 

And the results are fast. Michigan State University reports that your levels of cortisol (the so-called “stress hormone”) may begin to drop in as few as ten deep, conscious breaths. But to fully embrace the benefits of breathwork, there are specific breathing techniques to try.

Get our best tips for dealing with anxiety

You'll also receive weekly tips on how to make braincare part of your life.

How to deep breathe: the dos and don’ts of breathwork

Before we get into specific breathing techniques and breathing patterns, there are some general best practices when doing breathwork:

  • Do it when you aren’t rushed for time.

  • Do it in a place where you can completely focus on your breath (i.e., a quiet room, not a noisy kitchen or a chaotic living room where you’re distracted by your family or a mental to-do list).

  • Do it daily, aiming to practice your breathwork for several minutes at a time.

  • Don’t be passive, but instead be fully engaged in your mind and body.

  • Don’t treat it as a chore, but rather an invitation to connect with your breath.

  • Don’t treat it as something to do only when you have time, but instead make space for it and block off some breathwork time in your daily calendar.

You may even want to consider creating a special ritual or a place reserved only for your deep breathing exercises. For example, you might set up a cosy corner of your bedroom with comfortable cushions and some candles in order to prime your mind for relaxation and help you get into deep breathing faster.

The three best breathing exercises for anxiety, stress, and more

1. Breath focus: the best breathing exercise to relax anxiety

The breath focus technique doesn’t just incorporate deep breathing, but it also involves mental focus and training. By centreing all your thoughts on your breath, you break the unceasing inner voice and inner dialogue that often contributes to anxious feelings. It’s also a powerful way to stay grounded and present during times where your life feels out of control or chaotic.

Instructions:

  • Choose a calming word to focus on during this exercise, such as “calm”, “peace”, or “safe.” 

  • Sit in a comfortable position on a soft cushion or on a bed.

  • Raise your shoulders up to your ears, then relax them and let them fall naturally and gently.

  • Place one hand on your chest.

  • Place the other hand on your stomach.

  • Inhale through your nose for two seconds, breathing in so deep that you feel your stomach expand while your chest stays still.

  • Pay attention to every sensation of your breath, such as the tickling sensation in your nostrils or the way your t-shirt feels as your abdomen expands. 

  • Repeat your calming word to yourself in your mind if you feel your thoughts wavering from your breath.

  • Exhale gently for two seconds, expelling all the air out of your lungs and stomach.

  • Pause for one second.

  • Repeat for a total of 10 breaths or until you feel your anxiety subside.

2. Lion’s breath: the best breathing exercise to soothe stress and energize your brain

Lion’s breath, also known as simhasana, is a type of pranayama (i.e., yogic breathing). It’s a boisterous, loud, full-lung breathing technique that is very stimulating and vocal, which is why it’s often used by singers before a performance. Many people find it very energizing because of the amount of oxygen exchange that’s happening, which may help to clear mental fog or mental fatigue.

The noises you make while doing lion’s breath also helps you to overcome any self-limiting thoughts or self-inhibitions. Some regular practitioners say this can lead to increased confidence and self-esteem over time, and clear away any guilt, shame or negative emotions you might have about yourself.

Instructions:

  • Sit in a comfortable position on a soft cushion or on a bed.

  • Raise your shoulders up to your ears, then relax them and let them fall naturally and gently.

  • Lean forward, supporting yourself with your hands placed on your knees.

  • Inhale deeply through your nose, filling your stomach and chest with oxygenated air.

  • Open your mouth as wide as possible, stretch your chin towards the floor, and stick out your tongue.

  • Exhale as forcefully and strong as you can while making a deep “ha” noise.

  • Return to regular breathing for 60 seconds.

  • Repeat five to 10 times, then calm your nervous system with the traditional breath focus exercise above.

3. Humming bee breath (bhramari): the best breathing exercise to clear negative emotions

Poorly managed negative emotions, such as anger and frustration, have a negative effect on many areas of your life. This includes a significant impact on your brain health. For instance, chronic negative emotions release stress hormones, and chronically high stress hormones can damage the parts of your brain associated with memory and learning.

The vocal humming and deep vibrating sensations created when doing the humming bee breath technique can help to relieve anger and frustration, while also oxygenating your cardiovascular system and your brain.

Instructions:

  • Sit in a comfortable position on a soft cushion or on a bed.

  • Raise your shoulders up to your ears, then relax them and let them fall naturally and gently.

  • Close your eyes and imagine relaxation sweeping over you.

  • Spend a few seconds mentally focusing on every major area of your body, from head to toe, and gently relaxing each part.

  • Place your pointer finger and middle finger of each hand against the tragus cartilage that partially covers both of your ears (click here to see a diagram of your ear).

  • Inhale as deep as you can.

  • Exhale slowly through your nose while keeping your mouth shut.

  • Hum while exhaling until all your breath has been expelled.

  • Pause, then repeat for a total of three to four breathing movements,  then calm your nervous system with the traditional breath focus technique above.

Deep breathing exercises help deliver more oxygen and nutrients to your brain and other major organs. Give your body the nutrients you need for better brain health and less stress with the Heights Smart Supplement. It offers the highest quality nutrients for reduced stress, reduced anxiety, and overall improved cognition. 

Get your Brain Health Score in 4 minutes

0

Related articles
Mental well-being
Accidental mindfulness: 5 mindful activities you probably already do
Heights
6 min read

About Heights

  • Our Mission
  • Our Experts
  • Learn
  • Student discount
  • Refer a friend
  • Careers
  • Braincare Podcast
  • Sustainability

THE SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT

Bring more braincare into your life, every week—tips for everyday life, podcasts, and exclusive community events.

By sharing your email address, you are agreeing to receive email marketing communications from Heights from time to time. We will not share your details with any 3rd parties. Please review our Privacy Policy for more information.

This product is not designed to replace a varied and balanced diet. Do not exceed stated dose. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding or taking any medication, please consult your doctor before use. Do not use it if the sachet has been opened. Store in a cool, dry place. Keep out of reach of children.

My cart
No products in your cart
Subtotal
£0.00
Shipping to United Kingdom
Free
Total
£0.00
Discount codes can be added at checkout