In our fast-paced, high-pressure world, just about everyone seems to undergo some stress or anxiety in their daily lives. Most of us know that the quickest way to calm our nerves is to simply take a few deep breaths. However, we’re often so caught up in our thoughts that we completely ignore our breathing patterns. Did you know that proper breathing can not only aid with stress, but also with detoxification? Now relax, take a deep breath and keep reading. Below we’ll go over the importance of breath awareness as well as specific breathing exercises for anxiety and detoxing the body.
The Link Between Body, Mind and Breath
While everyone’s constantly breathing (hopefully!), most people hardly pay attention to either the timing or depth of their own breath. When we’re stressed, we tend to take shorter, shallower breaths, or even hold our breath for moments at a time. Such habits, unfortunately, are only going to make our stress and anxiety worse.
Moreover, by making short and shallow breaths a habit, it can eventually turn into our default method of breathing. This can make us more prone to anxiety even when we’re not in a particularly stressful situation. And it can also negatively impact the body as well.
When we experience stress, it’s natural for certain parts of our body to tighten up. This results in a lower amount of oxygen flowing through the body, which in turn causes a further tightening of the muscles. This physical reaction can make us even more lethargic and prone to additional stress! 
So how can we break the cycle? By monitoring our breathing patterns and making a conscious effort to breathe slowly and deeply throughout the day.
Proper breath control can not only benefit us on both a mental and physical level, but breath awareness can also wire the body and mind to better work together to fight off stress and disease.
Breathing for Detoxification
Making sure that we breathe properly is highly important for the body’s lymphatic system. Unlike the circulatory system which relies on the heart, our lymphatic systems rely on our breathing to get flowing.
Health blogger Robins Key writes that “The blood pumps oxygen and nutrients to the cells and once they absorb what they need, they excrete their waste back out into the sea of lymphatic fluid that our cells constantly swim in.” 
Breathing through our diaphragms is the best way to help our lymphatic systems get rid of both the waste left by living cells as well as the dead cells themselves.
Further benefits of proper breathing include helping create more white blood cells and even allowing the body to more easily absorb minerals and vitamins. Deep breathing also helps massage important organs such as the liver and intestines and of course, the lungs. 
We’ll go over both how to properly breathe throughout the day, as well as specific techniques for clearing out the lungs, further down below.
The Simple Power of Observing Your Breath
Take a minute right now to simply observe your own breath. Is your breathing quick and shallow? If so, keep observing your breathing and notice how your breaths have gradually become slower and deeper without much conscious effort on your part. One of the most effective deep breathing exercises you’ll ever learn is extremely simple: just observe.
As we’ll go over below, technical breathing exercises certainly have their time and place. But one of the most powerful tools when it comes to making deeper breathing a permanent habit is the basic act of breath and body awareness.
Belly Breathing: The Ideal Default Breathing Method
Once you’re better able to get into a habit of regular deep breathing, it’s important to understand how you should be properly breathing for maximum benefit. You don’t want to breathe through your mouth but instead through your nose, which helps better filter the air. Feel free to exhale through your mouth, however.
Both the inhale and the exhale should ideally last at least a few seconds each. If you can, though, try making the exhale slightly longer than the inhale. There’s good scientific reasoning for this, as studies have shown that a longer exhale actually triggers the brain to reduce the nervous system’s fight-or-flight response!  This can be a difficult rhythm to turn into an unconscious habit, though, which is where special breathing exercises come especially handy (more below).
Additionally, you want to focus on breathing into your diaphragm and not into your chest. This is what people mean when they use the term “Belly Breathing.” People today are often self-conscious of their bellies and as a result, tend to keep this area tucked in and tense throughout the day. As mentioned above, though, the tensing up of our bodies combined with short, shallow breaths, can have an overall negative impact on our health.
Belly Breathing is not an easy habit to form. I know I’m constantly catching myself breathing into my chest or even holding my breath for periods of a time when I’m concentrating on other things. Don’t expect to just get into the habit immediately, and don’t feel too down when you catch yourself breathing incorrectly. Just take a few moments to observe your breath and smoothly fall back into the proper breathing pattern.
While Belly Breathing is the ideal way you should be breathing throughout the day, there are certainly moments when specific breathing techniques and exercises can come in handy. Let’s go over a few important ones:
Top Deep Breathing Exercises for Stress Relief and Detoxification
Above we briefly went over how making your exhale longer than your inhale can be one of the most powerful breathing exercises for anxiety. But it’s not an easy thing to turn into a habit. That’s where the technique known as the ‘4-7-8’ comes in.
Popularized by Dr. Andew Weil, the 4-7-8 technique is all about maintaining a particular ratio of inhalation, holding of the breath and exhalation. As the name suggests, you should inhale for a length of 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7, and then exhale for 8 seconds. 
Dr. Weil also suggests inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth, but there’s a catch: the tongue should be kept at the roof of the mouth, just behind the upper front teeth. This is actually quite a common method in a variety of Eastern meditation techniques, as it encourages energy to flow more smoothly throughout the body.
Also keep in mind that you should try inhaling silently while exhaling audibly. Try it for several times in a row and see how it makes you feel. Are you a little more relaxed? It certainly works for me. Dr. Weil, however, recommends doing it no more than 4 times in a row per session, at least in the beginning. 
Breathing and Lung Exercises
As busy people going about our everyday lives, we rarely give our lungs the attention they deserve. Our lungs, in fact, are capable of taking in much more air than we normally give them. The lungs are vital for proper respiratory health.
Learning to fill your lungs to a higher capacity also benefits various other systems of the body. Toxins can remain stuck deep within the lungs if you don’t learn to clear them from time to time. And it goes without saying that higher lung capacity greatly improves athletic performance.
While deep breathing in general is good for the lungs, deep breathing exercises meant specifically to clear the lungs require a higher level of intensity and concentration. First of all, try taking in as much air as you possibly can. Through your nose, breathe into your belly and then keep breathing in more air until your chest also fills up. Hold it for several seconds and then exhale through your mouth. Try to exhale as deeply as you inhaled, pushing the last remaining air out of your lungs.
Try this several times a session and then start clearing out your lungs regularly. Not only does this help relieve stress in the short term, but over time you may notice that your lungs feel cleaner and that breathing more deeply starts to come naturally.
Dr. Andrew Weil is also a proponent of another type of breathing exercise called “Bellows Breath.” This technique has its roots in yoga but can certainly be tried by anyone regardless of their yoga experience. In stark contrast to slow breathing, Bellows Breath encourages rapid inhalation and exhalation through the nose.
Dr. Weil suggests “three in-and-out breath cycles per second,” after which you should breathe normally.  Rather than being a calming exercise, Bellows Breath is ideal for those looking for a quick and stimulating boost of energy.
Breathing & Meditation
If you have any experience with yoga, you likely already understand the powerful benefits of deep breathing exercises. Furthermore, you’ve seen how linking breathing patterns together with physical movement can have tremendous positive benefits on the body and mind. While quite different from yoga, the ancient Chinese traditions of qi gong and tai chi are also excellent practices for linking one’s breath, body and mind.
In addition to yoga and qi gong, a number of other spiritual traditions, especially those linked to Buddhism or Hinduism, contain a wide variety of breathing techniques and meditations. “Meditation” is a very broad term and there are really countless different ways in which one can meditate. Most varieties of meditation, though, put a major emphasis on breath awareness.
Other Tips for Stress Relief
If stress is really taking a serious toll on your life, let’s briefly go over a few other things you should look into. When you experience a near constant ‘fight-or-flight mode,’ you can end up feeling burnt out and going through what’s known as adrenal fatigue. One of the best ways to combat adrenal fatigue is with a special type of herb known as adaptogens. You can learn more about adaptogenic herbs right here.
Another great way to relieve stress is through Reiki therapy, a type of energy healing which focuses on relieving stress and bringing homeostasis back to the body. Learn more here.
One of my favorite ways to relieve stress nowadays is something that didn’t even exist until a few years ago. ASMR, or ‘Autonomous sensory meridian response,’ is what happens when certain ‘trigger’ sounds produce a relaxing tingling sensation in the listener. It is an actual physical sensation that feels good, relieves stress and helps induce sleep. Just do a YouTube search for it and see what you find.
Unlike the things mentioned above, breathing methods and breath awareness can be done at any moment of any day, no matter where you are. With that considered, nothing beats certain breathing techniques for anxiety and stress relief. Other methods can still come in handy, of course, especially when combined with the breathing methods outlined in this article.
Regular deep breathing is a powerful way to improve one’s physical and mental health. It’s amazing how something so simple can prove to be so beneficial to many different areas of our lives. Becoming aware of our breath can briefly take our minds away from our everyday worries and struggles. But it’s not just an escape. In fact, taking more time out of our day to focus on our breath helps us better keep calm when faced with truly stressful situations. And it can benefit the body as well, by stimulating the lymphatic system and clearing out the lungs, among other things. So what are you waiting for? Just take a deep breath…