Simple Breathing Exercises You Can Do Anywhere

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I’ve talked about how important it is to clean your indoor air, but it’s equally as important to know how to breathe properly. We eat a few times a day, drink water an additional handful of times, exercise a few times a week, but we breathe nonstop all day and night!

Let’s face it, breath is one of the biggest inputs we put into our bodies. Learning how to do it right by practicing deep breathing exercises (yes, even when the toddler is melting down) can have a huge effect on overall health.

Why Deep Breathing Exercises Are So Beneficial

Interesting fact: We often don’t breathe the way our bodies would like us to.

As I learned in my interview with Max Gomez, co-creator of the Breathwrk app (more on that in a minute), breath happens in the autonomic nervous system. This system works mostly unconsciously, regulating breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, skin temp, digestion.

In other words, we don’t have to think about whether our heart is beating or our skin temperature is high enough, our bodies just do it automatically.

Max goes on to explain that though this system operates unconsciously, it is still possible to influence it to function optimally through breathwork.

The Breath-Body Connection

The autonomic nervous system breaks down into two systems — the sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous systems. In our modern society, many people operate in the sympathetic nervous system more than they should. They are anxious, stressed, and overwhelmed.

In a tense state, our bodies respond by breathing more quickly (and shallowly). Our heart rates increase and muscles tense up.

Today, chronic stress is a huge problem. Many experts would argue that stress reduction is more important for overall health than a healthy diet, exercise, or other healthy lifestyle choices.

Deep breathing techniques are one easy way to reduce this chronic stress.

Breathwork Benefits for Stress, Anxiety & More

Breathing exercises help the body and mind relax because breathing calmly is what the body does when it’s already relaxed.

Max mentions that there are receptors deep in the lungs so when we breathe deeply we are actually sending signals to the body to move from sympathetic to parasympathetic processes. Essentially, if calm breathing is a sign of calmness in the body, intentionally breathing that way tricks the body into thinking it is calm and the rest of the body processes follow suit.

Focusing on breathwork also helps clear the mind and helps you to stop focusing on worries and thoughts.

Here are the ways that breathing exercises trigger the body to calm down:

Parasympathetic Tone Improvement

Intentional breathing helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. This part of the nervous system is responsible for “rest and digest.” When a stressor triggers a stress response in the body, breathing exercises can help bring you back to a place of calm.

Over time, as you exercise this “muscle” the parasympathetic nervous system should get stronger. So the next time you encounter a stressor, your body is more likely to reenter a state of calm more quickly.

Vagus Nerve Stimulation

The vagus nerves are two large cranial nerves that run from the brain through the upper body to the colon. Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve to trigger calm in the body. According to a 2018 review, stimulation of the vagus nerve is the most likely reason that meditation, mindfulness, and abdominal breathing exercises help the body get into a calm state.

The vagus nerve is responsible for stimulating digestion and regulating heart rate and blood pressure. Deep breathing activates neurons that detect blood pressure. These neurons signal to the vagus nerve that blood pressure is getting too high. The vagus nerve then works to reduce heart rate and blood pressure.

Read more about the vagus nerve and why stimulating it is so important in this post.

Optimal Oxygen Exchange

It’s obvious that oxygen is important for human health, but shallow breathing (which most of us do) makes getting enough oxygen harder. A 2009 article from Harvard Health Publishing explains that deep breathing helps the body to fully trade incoming oxygen from outgoing carbon dioxide.

Deep breathing helps to fill the entire lungs with air, getting the most oxygen into the body. Doing these exercises helps you to deep breathe more often, improving oxygen flow.

Lowers Blood Pressure and Cortisol Levels

Breathing exercises significantly reduce blood pressure and cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is linked to depression, anxiety, and other negative emotions. It’s also responsible for health issues such as sleep problems and weight gain.

Learn other ways to get cortisol under control here.

Improves Heart Rate Variability

Deep breathing exercises increase heart rate variability (HRV). When the body is in a sympathetic state (fight or flight) HRV is lower. When the body is in a parasympathetic state (rest and digest) HRV is higher. So keeping track of HRV can help us to know how relaxed our bodies are.

HRV increases when deep, intentional breathing exercises are performed. This is a good thing! HRV is one of the key health markers I track in daily life.

Simple Breathing Techniques Anyone Can Do (Even While Parenting!)

Clearly, breathwork is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Luckily, it doesn’t require a yoga class, a studio, or plenty of time to do it. You can reap the benefits without any preparation, special equipment, or expensive fees.

It’s also safe and easy for kids so the whole family can reap the benefits!

Here are some deep breathing exercises to try at home:

Belly Breathing

This is a simple breathing technique that anyone in the family can use whenever they’re feeling anxious. It’s great for helping kids settle down at bedtime too!

  • Sit in a comfortable position.
  • Place your hand on your abdomen.
  • Inhale and notice your hand moving and belly expanding with your breath.
  • Exhale slowly and notice your hand moving back inward with the exhale.
  • Continue this breathing pattern as long as is needed to achieve calm.

Roll Breathing

This breathing technique is a little more complicated so is best for adults and older children who have mastered the belly breathing technique above.

  • Lying or sitting in a comfortable position, place one hand on your chest and one on your abdomen.
  • Inhale through your nose and imagine filling your belly first then your chest with air. Use your hands as guides.
  • Exhale through your mouth and empty your chest first then your belly.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Stretch Breathing

This exercise is a great combination of stretching and intentional breathing.

  • In a standing position, reach your arms up over your head as you inhale.
  • On an exhale, fold your body forward and drop your arms so they touch the floor.
  • On an inhale slowly roll the spine up so you are back in a standing position.
  • The key is to roll up very slowly to avoid a head rush or dizziness. It also helps you to breathe slowly and intentionally.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Alternate nostril breathing is a great way to relax the body. It takes a lot of concentration to get right, but once you get used to it, it becomes much easier.

  • Sit in a comfortable position.
  • Using your dominant hand make the hang ten sign (thumb and pinkie finger out and other fingers curled in).
  • Empty your lungs.
  • Close your right nostril with your right thumb (if using your right hand) and inhale through your left nostril.
  • Hold your breath at the top.
  • Switch to close the left nostril with your right pinkie finger and exhale through the right nostril.
  • Inhale through the right nostril and hold while you close the right nostril and exhale through the left nostril.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Equal Breathing

A simple technique, this breathing exercise is easy for most people (including kids who are old enough to count).

  • Sit in a comfortable position.
  • Breathe in and out through your nose at a count of 3-5 seconds on each inhale and exhale. Find the length that works for you.
  • Focus your breath to match your inhale with your exhale.

Unequal Breathing

This technique is a variation on the equal breathing that helps increase calm.

  • Sit in a comfortable position.
  • Breath in deeply through the nose and breath out through the mouth longer than you inhaled.
  • Start by breathing in for 3-5 and out for 5-8 seconds but adjust for your own comfort.

4-7-8 Breathing

This breathing exercise mimics that of someone in deep sleep and was created by Dr. Weil (he explains it in this podcast). I personally use this exercise anytime I’m having trouble sleeping.

  • Breathe in quietly through the nose for 4 seconds.
  • Hold for 7 seconds.
  • Purse the lips and forcefully release the breath for 8 seconds (making a whoosh sound).
  • Repeat (but no more than 4 times until you get the hang of it).


This exercise incorporates breathing with muscle relaxation for overall body relaxation. This is great for small kids as you can place your hand on the body part that needs to relax.

  • Inhale into the abdomen.
  • On the exhale, relax the body from head to toe.
  • Say 5 as you relax the head and neck, 4 as you relax the chest and back, 3 as you relax the stomach and pelvis, 2 as you relax the upper legs, and 1 as you relax the calves and feet.
  • Repeat 2-4 times as needed.

Apps That Remind You to Breathe (and Relax!)

Often we think of our phones as a source of stress or noise in our lives, but they can also be a tool for relaxation! My favorite is the Breathwrk app. If you’ve used others and love them, let us know in the comments!

It can also be as simple as setting a reminder in your phone to take a break and breathe. I also use a few minutes at the end of the day when getting ready for bed to do some exercises that get me ready to sleep.

Breathing Exercises: Zen Within Your Reach

With the laundry list of things a mom has to do every day, it’s easy to see why stress and overwhelm and common. Luckily these simple breathing exercises can help even the youngest family members relax.

Combine these breath exercises with other relaxation techniques and tricks (like using this relaxing pillow spray) to finally reduce stress in your life for good!

What do you do to relax every day? Do you practice deep breathing?

  1. Publishing, H. (n.d.). Take a deep breath. Retrieved October 27, 2020, from
  2. Gerritsen, R. J., & Band, G. P. (2018). Breath of Life: The Respiratory Vagal Stimulation Model of Contemplative Activity. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00397
  3. Ma, X., Yue, Z., Gong, Z., Zhang, H., Duan, N., Shi, Y., . . . Li, Y. (2017). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 8. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874
  4. Burgess, P. (2019). Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation. Retrieved October 27, 2020, from

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