How to Breathe Mindfully

When we are stressed, our sympathetic nervous system (what is known as our “fight or flight” response) turns on. It is detrimental to our health and well-being to operate in this constant state of stress or anxiety.

One way to break the cycle of stress is to consciously try to switch from “fight or flight” to “rest and digest”—turning on our parasympathetic nervous system.

A simple way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system is through deep, mindful breathing. Ready to give it a try? The following is a very easy first step towards connecting with your breath in a more conscious, relaxed way.

  1. To start, notice the quality and cadence of your breath, without judgment.
  2. Take a couple of breaths just to observe it. Next, take some slower, deeper breaths in… and then out.
  3. Find a breathing cadence that feels good.

For stress reduction, the “birthday candle” breathing technique (or the 3–6 technique) is an easy one to remember.

  1. Breathe in deeply through your nose (normal pace—maybe a count of 3)
  2.  Nice and easy, breathe out with your lips slightly pursed as if you’re blowing out birthday candles (slower and longer than the time it took to breathe in—maybe a count of 6)
  3. Repeat

There are many breathing techniques out there, so don’t get too caught up in which breath technique you use. Try a few and find what feels good.

The important thing is to note how it makes you feel afterward. Noticing and deepening your breath helps bring fresh oxygen to all parts of the body and stimulates the vagus nerve, which helps calm you down.

It also empowers you to feel in control of your body experience when feelings are feeling out of control.


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