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12 Breathing Exercises to Help You Relax in Minutes

If you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, take some time out of your day to do these simple breathing exercises. They’ll help you feel relaxed and refreshed.

Young african american woman sitting on the floor at home relax and smiling with eyes closed doing meditation gesture with fingers. Yoga concept.Aaron Amat/Shutterstock

4-7-8 X 7 breathing exercise

If you’re feeling anxious and want to relax right away, this is one of the best breathing exercises to try. Breathe in through your nose while counting to four, hold your breath and count to seven, and then exhale through your mouth while counting to eight. Repeat this pattern seven times. As a bonus, chiropractor Jason Piken, DC, a certified nutrition specialist and health coach, says to keep your tongue pressed against the back of your front teeth. This way, when you exhale through your mouth, you’ll make a slight hissing sound. Learn the 7 secrets of people who never seem frazzled.

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Diaphragmatic breathing

Lie on your back for this breathing exercise with one hand on your upper chest and the other right below your rib cage. Breathe slowly through your nose, feeling only your belly moving. Laura Sage, CEO of CH/LL Meditation, says that this exercise helps to calm the nervous system, strengthen the diaphragm, increase relaxation, and increase oxygen levels in the bloodstream.

Young black man and a group of young sporty people practicing yoga lesson, sitting in Sukhasana exercise, Easy Seat pose, working out, indoor close up focus on mudra gesture, studio roomfizkes/Shutterstock

Retained breath

“This breath is very useful if you want to achieve a sense of withdrawal and concentration, which are both elements needed to achieve a deeper meditation,” says trained yogi and therapist Shara Tiffani. “Use this breath if you need assistance in remaining calm under stress.” To start, place one hand on your stomach and relax your abdominal muscles. Slowly inhale through your nose, bringing the air into the bottom of your lungs, and continue to inhale as your lungs expand and your collarbones begin to rise. At the peak of your inhalation, pause and then exhale from the top of your lungs to the bottom. Try some of these 36 easy ways to make your workday less stressful.

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Breathing in thirds

This is one of the many breathing exercises that help with anxiety and tension. To start, inhale fully. Then exhale one third of the breath and pause, exhale one third and pause, and exhale the rest of your breath and pause. Repeat as many times as you need. Sage recommends this exercise for people looking to increase relaxation and increase their lung capacity.

Senior mature man practicing yogaTeodorLazarev/Shutterstock

Simple equal breath

Inhale through your nose for four counts, and then exhale through your nose for four counts. Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy, president and CEO of Power Living Enterprises, recommends that you increase the count per breath (from four to six or eight) over time. This breathing exercise will help to reduce stress and calm your mind. Use these magic phrases to instantly ease your anxiety.

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Calming breath

If you want to increase relaxation, calm the nervous system, and relieve shortness of breath, Sage recommends that you try the calming-breath technique. For this breathing exercise, inhale for two counts, hold for three, and exhale for four through pursed lips. Try these 8 mini meditations to banish stress.

A young strong man doing yoga exercises - lotus pose and meditates with padmasana legs. Studio full length shot over white brick background and black floor, close up.ZephyrMedia/Shutterstock

Transformational breath

Kennedy recommends the transformation breath for people looking to transform their mind and body by inhaling the positive and exhaling the negative. Start by consciously inhaling through your nose; observe the expansion of your belly. Then exhale slowly through the nose, releasing your belly. “Inhale energy, exhale tension. Inhale strength, exhale fear. Inhale joy, exhale sadness. Inhale confidence, exhale self-doubt. Inhale the present, exhale the past,” says Kennedy. “With every inhalation, bring into your being an attribute of greatness and feel yourself being strengthened.” 

Young woman meditating and listening to music while sitting on floor at homeAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

5-2-5 breathing exercise

This is one of the basic breathing exercises that can help you relax in minutes. Sit down in a comfortable position and take five seconds to fill up your lungs, hold your breath for two seconds, and take five seconds to breathe out. George Alonso, an anxiety coach, recommends repeating this exercise for three to ten minutes while paying attention to the way the air feels moving in and out of your body. Watch out for these 10 ways to reduce stress that actually backfire.

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Three-part breathing

Creative life coach, meditation teacher, and yogi Brandyce Stephenson says that this is one of the first techniques she teaches when it comes to breathing exercises. It can be done anywhere to help you relax fast. First, find a comfortable seated position and place your left hand on your belly and your right hand on the outer edge of your rib cage. Focus on your breath as you inhale through your nose and your belly begins to fill, raising your hand. Feel the air, then fill your rib cage as your lungs expand. Then move the air into your chest. When you exhale, reverse the order of your breath, having it leave through your chest, then lungs, and finally your belly.

Meditation concept. Close up of hands of young office yogi woman sitting cross legged in yoga Easy Sukhasana Pose on riverbank in the city, meditating with fingers in Jnana mudrafizkes/Shutterstock

The Wim Hof method

Among breathing exercises, this one delivers the maximum amount of oxygen to your body, which helps you feel very calm, says Bryan Bruno, MD, medical director of Mid City TMS. First, take 30 power breaths—deep breathing in which you inhale fully but don’t fully exhale—then hold your breath for as long as you can. After you exhale, take another deep breath and hold it for ten seconds. Repeat the process three times. Also try these 15 five-second strategies for shutting down stress ASAP.

Beautiful young asian woman sitting in yoga position and meditating isolated over gray backgroundDean Drobot/Shutterstock

Counting breath

This breathing exercise helps you to clear your mind and relax in minutes. Start by sitting in a comfortable position and bring your attention to your breath. Count silently to yourself as you inhale and exhale. Joy Rains, author of Meditation Illuminated: Simple Ways to Manage Your Busy Mind, suggests saying, “I am inhaling one, I am exhaling one. I am inhaling two, I am exhaling two,” as you breathe.

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Alternate nostril breathing

Many yogis say this is one of their favorite breathing exercises. Hold your right thumb over your right nostril and inhale deeply, then hold your thumb over your left nostril and exhale. Continue this pattern ten times. “This breathing exercise is almost like a cup of coffee that provides calm and balance,” says Caleb Backe, a wellness expert for Maple Holistics. “Don’t do this one right before bed, because although it is relaxing, it helps improve focus and alertness.” Next, read about these 37 ways to make managing stress much easier.

Morgan Cutolo
Morgan is the Assistant Digital Managing Editor at Reader’s Digest. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2016 where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. When she’s not writing for rd.com or keeping the 650+ pieces of content our team produces every month organized, she likes watching HGTV, going on Target runs, and searching through Instagram to find new corgi accounts to follow.