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Counseling Center

Breathing Techniques

More and more people are using relaxation techniques to help themselves feel better. The value of deep relaxation in achieving wellness is also being recognized increasingly by the medical community. Research shows that the benefits of practicing relaxation techniques increase dramatically over time. Many studies have found that regular relaxation can speed psychotherapy, lessen chemical addiction, and decrease anxiety.

Facts About Relaxation
Relaxation techniques can help people lift themselves out of depression and to alleviate anxiety (sometimes only temporarily-but any kind of break helps). To be able to use relaxation techniques during a crisis, it’s essential to learn how to relax when you’re stable (it’s pretty much impossible to learn relaxation when you’re either too high or too low).  Relaxation techniques can be a valuable resource in helping you work through difficult times and in lowering your stress on an ongoing basis. The first step is to learn how to relax.

For any method of relaxation or meditation to be effective, you must practice daily at a regular time. Some people practice relaxation techniques for 15 minutes before getting out of bed in the morning and for 15 minutes before going to sleep (sometimes it will put them to sleep). You will figure out for yourself the times when your house or workplace is most quiet, and when you can take a 15-minute break without interruption. Ask your family or co-workers to respect this time by keeping quiet and not disturbing you. 


  • Locate a space or several spaces that are cozy, comfortable, and quiet. This might be in a corner, in your living room, a window seat in your bedroom, or the lunchroom at work. It is also possible to relax out of doors, in a secluded place in the woods, near a meadow, stream, by the ocean, or on a mountaintop. Churches, which are often open and empty on weekdays, are wonderful, quiet places where you can practice relaxation techniques.
  • Some people like to make their relaxation space special by adorning it with comfortable cushions, pictures, flowers, and candles. The only hard-and-fast rules are to make sure that the space is quiet, that you are comfortable there, and that you will not be disturbed.  Set up a two-week trial period to determine how regular periods of deep relaxation will affect your life.
  • If you miss a session now and again, don’t fret. Just do the best you can. Practice relaxing until it becomes second nature, and until you can use the technique anytime you begin to feel nervous, tense, or irritable.

Relaxation Techniques:

  1. Breathing
    Proper breathing habits and simple breathing exercises relax the body and mind. People who practice these exercises daily find that breathing properly can alleviate depression and anxiety, enhance the relaxation experience, and create a greater sense of overall well-being. Read through the techniques described below and decide which might work best for you. You may want to try them all.  

  2. Breathing Awareness
    Lie down on the floor with your legs flat or bent at the knees, your arms at your sides, your palms up, and your eyes closed. Breathe through your nose if you can. Focus on your breathing. Place your hand on the place that seems to rise and fall the most as you breathe. If this place is on your chest, you will need to practice breathing more deeply so your abdomen rises and falls most noticeably. (When we are nervous or anxious, we tend to breathe short, shallow breaths in the upper chest.) Now place both hands on your abdomen and notice how it rises and falls with each breath. Notice if your chest is moving in harmony with your abdomen. Continue to do this for several minutes. Get up slowly. This exercise is something you can do during a break at work. If you can’t lie down, you can do it sitting in a chair.

  3. Deep Breathing
    This exercise can be practiced in a variety of body positions; however, it’s most effective if you can do it lying down with your knees bent and your spine straight. After lying down, scan your body for tension. Place one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose into your abdomen to push up your hand as much as it feels comfortable. Your chest should only move a little in response to the movement of your abdomen. When you feel at ease with your breathing, inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth, making a relaxing, wooshing sound as you gently blow out. This will relax your mouth, tongue, and jaw. Continue taking long, slow, deep breaths that raise and lower your abdomen. As you become more and more relaxed, focus on the sound and feeling of your breathing.  Continue this deep breathing for five to ten minutes at a time, once or twice daily. At the end of each session, scan your body for tension. As you become used to this exercise, you can practice it wherever you happen to be, in a standing, sitting, or supine position. Use the exercise whenever you feel tense.

  4. The Relaxing Sigh
    So you notice yourself yawning or sighing during the day? This is usually a sign that you are not breathing deeply enough to get enough oxygen. The sigh or yawn helps to remedy the situation and also releases tension. When you feel the need to relax, sit or stand up straight. Sigh deeply, letting out a sound of deep relief as the air rushes out of your lungs. Then let the air return to your lungs slowly and naturally. Repeat eight to twelve times whenever you feel tense or anxious.

  5. Complete Natural Breathing:
    This way of breathing will become second nature as you practice it. Sit or stand up straight. Breathe through your nose. While inhaling, fill the lower section of your lungs (your diaphragm will push your abdomen out to make more room for the air). Now fill the middle part of your lungs with air as your lower ribs and your chest move forward slightly.  Then fill the upper part of your lungs with air as you raise your chest slightly and draw in your abdomen a little. With practice these steps can be performed in one conscious, smooth inhalation in a few seconds. Hold for a few seconds. Exhale slowly, through your mouth, pulling your abdomen in slightly and lifting it up as your lungs empty. When you have exhaled completely, relax your abdomen and chest. Repeat this sequence at least five times, raising your shoulders and collarbone occasionally after the inhalation to be sure that the very top of your lungs is filled with fresh air.

  6. Purifying Breath
    This exercise cleans your lungs while stimulating and toning the entire breathing process and refreshing your body. It can be used with the other breathing exercises. Sit or stand up straight. Inhale a complete natural breath, as described in the previous exercise. Hold this breath for several seconds. Exhale a little of the air with force through the small opening in your lips. Stop exhaling for a moment, and then blow out more air. Repeat this procedure until you have exhaled the air. Practice for several minutes.

Additional Relaxation Techniques

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Guided Imagery


External Resources

Downloadable Relaxation Scripts
Source: University of Texas at AustinCounseling Center

Relaxation Techniques
Source: Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Relaxation and Stress Management
Source: Georgia Southern