Feeling stressed? These two work-friendly breathing exercises are perfect for beginners

Guest article by Carolyn Cowan, who is a London-based psychotherapist

Some days, work just seems to get on top of us and the stress levels start to climb. In these circumstances, it can be easy to go into panic mode or simply give up. But with these easy-to-master breathwork techniques, you can turn your mind from overdrive to high efficiency.

Why breathing exercises can help with stress

While many of us associate the phrase with downward dog and yoga mats, breathwork can be used anytime and anywhere to help you overcome anxious feelings. Whether you’re worried about an upcoming deadline, meeting or review, or finding you can’t leave work at the office, incorporating deep breathing into your day can take you out of an anxious state and back into work mode.

It doesn’t need to be complicated, and you can feel the benefits whether you’re a complete novice or a meditation pro. To start, it is important to stretch your body. Find a quiet spot and inhale slowly, filling your whole belly. As you do so, lift your arms wide to the side of your body and bring your hands together above your head. Raise your chin and open your mouth wide, stretching out your tongue.

As you exhale, gently fold forward over your hips. Slowly inhale as you reach your hands down to one foot. Once there, slowly exhale. Don’t worry if you can’t reach the floor, just reach down as far as is comfortable without pain. Inhale as you move back to the centre, before reaching for the other foot as you exhale. Repeat for two minutes. If you can, widen your feet a little as your body relaxes.

Gently walk your hands back up your legs as you straighten your spine. Roll your shoulders and take a minute to come to. You’re now ready to try a breathing technique:

A breath to manage the mind when you are nervous

This simple breath is a great way to release the mind from negative thoughts. It is ideal to practice if you are feeling nervous about a meeting or preparing for a difficult conversation with your boss or investor. Get comfortable with how the practice flows before you need to do it and by the time you are ready, it will be like an old friend.

Sit comfortably, anywhere that works for you – at your desk, on the bus, on a mat, on a chair – with your eyes closed and your spine straight, chin tipped slightly down.

Begin to inhale through pursed, tight lips – not a whistle but a steady stream of cool air straight down into the belly. Suspend the breath for a moment at the top of the inhale.

Exhale through the nose, and feel the warm, soft blanket of air wrap itself around you. As you settle into the breath, maybe three or four inhales in, begin to make the exhaled breath as silent as possible, and notice that when the breath is silent everything slows down. This is what you want: the slow, gentle, hissing inhale and the warm, silent exhale.

Continue for 3–11 minutes. Then inhale through the nose, exhale and be still, silent and gentle for 2–3 minutes.

A breath to calm the mind

Standing up and presenting in front of people is well-known to be nerve-wracking. You may have been advised in the past to imagine people in their birthday suits but what you need is a tool to help you feel calm and collected. Try this exercise just before you need to do your talk, speech or presentation and you’ll feel your nerves slip away as your heart rate slows for the perfect performance.

This breath is a way of allowing your lips to utterly relax on the exhale through the mouth, with a slight tension in the smile muscles on either side of the lips.

It is a breath that can be done anywhere. Imagine letting go of negative thoughts and feelings as you breathe out.

Sit with your hands on your wide knees and elbows locked, back straight. Tilt the chin slightly down. Notice how this posture lifts the chest and opens the heart centre.

The ask is that the breath is silent on the inhale and there is a gentle wind sound on the exhale.

Slowly inhale through the nose and suspend the breath for one second at the top of the inhale, then exhale through pouting lips, slowly and gently.

Aim for 5–10 seconds on both the inhale and the exhale, sitting for 2 minutes for the breath and two minutes in the stillness.

With these three breathing exercises on hand, you can enter any meeting with confidence and face those trickier days more calmly.

Carolyn Cowan is a London-based psychotherapist and breathwork teacher who specialises in helping people reset their stress response using the power of breaths. Find out more about Carolyn and her work at www.carolyncowan.com.

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