13 Yoga Deep Breathing Exercises for Anxiety, Stress & Lung Health

Next time you’re stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, try these deep breathing exercises to help ease your negative feelings. Practiced in yoga, these exercises are also known as pranayama. They range in simplicity and difficulty and seek to stimulate and control the body’s Nadi, or energy channels. Switching up how you breathe can alter this flow of energy, improving your mood, energy levels, and focus. Like many exercises, mastering these techniques comes with practice and consistency, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to improve your well-being dramatically.

1. Yogic Breath

The first place to start when commencing your deep breathing exercises is with yogic breath, also known as diaphragmatic or belly breathing. It’s a foundational breathing technique and will provide the basis for all other forms of pranayama. The best way to learn is to differentiate between chest and abdominal breathing. The former lets the lungs expand horizontally, while the latter expands vertically. You can do this by placing your hands on your chest or stomach and breathing consciously and slowly, feeling each space filled with air. Once you’ve established how to breathe into each separately, you’ll combine them, so you’re using as much lung capacity as possible. This pranayam is perfect for beginners, and five to ten minutes of practice per day can really help control and focus the mind.

2. Dirga Pranayama

Another of the foundational deep breathing exercises is Dirga Pranayama – the three-part or complete breath. It builds on yogic breathing to increase your lung capacity and breath awareness. During this technique, you’ll fill the belly, ribs, and chest with air as you take a deep, cleansing breath. It can help to visualize sending your breath first to the stomach, expanding it like a balloon. Then, imagine the air filling your lungs and flaring the ribs before expanding into your chest and shoulders, bringing you tall and open. Exhale slowly and smoothly in the opposite direction, from chest to ribs to diaphragm. Incorporating this pranayama is a wonderful way to unplug and quiet your mind.

3. Ujjayi Pranayama

Ujjayi Pranayama is perfect if you’re looking for a calming yet energizing deep breathing exercise. It’s commonly practiced in the ashtanga and vinyasa yoga styles and can improve focus and concentration. It’s also called the victorious or ocean-sounding breath. This particular breath is an audible one, but with an internal sound that’s not dissimilar to Darth Vader. The easiest option is to breathe cool air in through your nose, exhaling the hot air from a wide-open yet relaxed mouth with a “haaa” sound like you’re trying to fog up a mirror. Once you successfully do this, try again with a closed mouth, but keep your jaw relaxed. You should feel a hissing in the back of your throat. Because this is an audible breath, you can use it to anchor your mind while doing yoga, connecting your breathing with your movements.

4. Sama Vritti Pranayama

Find balance with Sama Vritti Pranayama. This basic deep breathing exercise, also called box breathing, keeps things simple with equal counts for inhaling, holding, exhaling, and holding. It can help to visualize a box as you do this. This method is deeply relaxing, so it’s ideal for stress or anxiety (even the Navy SEALs use this technique!). To begin, sit comfortably and take note of your natural breathing. As with the previous pranayamas, this exercise will use diaphragmatic breathing to increase airflow through the lungs. When you’re ready, empty your lungs, then breathe in for a count of four. Hold for four, exhale for four, and then hold at the end of the exhale for another four. Repeat the pattern for around five to ten rounds. As you practice this more, you can play with timings working your way up to a box of ten or even 15 seconds.

5. Nadi Sodhana Pranayama

If you’re feeling out of balance, Nadi Sodhana Pranayama or alternate nostril breathing is a brilliant way to restore harmony and balance to your energy pathways. This is an intermediate deep breathing exercise you can incorporate into your practice once you’ve mastered the basics. You’ll use your thumb and ring finger in Vishnu Mudra to alternate plugging your nostrils. The pattern is this: block the left nostril, breathe in on the right, pause and block the right nostril to exhale on the left. Then, repeat on the other side, breathing in on the left, pausing to close the same side, before breathing out on the right. It can take a little bit of mental gymnastics to get it right, but once you do, this exercise is brilliant for alleviating anxiety and rejuvenating the nervous system.

6. Bhramari Pranayama

Bhramari Pranayama, or buzzing bee breath, is another beginner-friendly practice. It can help if you’re feeling overwhelmed to calm your nerves, plus alleviate headaches and tension – all in just one minute. In the traditional method, you’ll place your thumbs on the tragus of each ear, ready to block your ears. Then, your index fingers sit on your forehead or eyes, your middle fingers on the nose, ring fingers on the lips, and pinkies on the chin. Take a deep, slow breath in, and gently press your thumbs into your ears, blocking them. Exhale with your lips closed, making a humming sound as you do. You can vary the pitch and sound you make to find one that feels good. Focus on experiencing the vibrations in your head, nose, and spine. Aim for a set of five slow breaths, which should take around one minute.

7. Udgeeth Pranayama

Adding the Om chant to your deep breathing exercises with Udgeeth Pranayama can help eliminate negative thoughts, clear the mind, and improve focus. The Om is pronounced similarly to AUM. As you move through the word, you should feel the vibrations throughout your whole body. The “A” is more in your abdomen, the “U” in the chest, and the “M” will resonate more in your head. Sit comfortably with a straight spine and eyes closed. Take a deep, diaphragmatic breath into your belly. Then, as you exhale, begin your chant. You want to aim for a long exhale, drawing the sound and vibrations out for as long as it is comfortable. Repeat this sequence for two to ten minutes, taking a moment of silence when finished to really integrate your experience.

8. Kapalabhati Pranayama

Known as Skull Shining Breath, Kapalabhati Pranayama is an advanced deep breathing exercise. It gives you a significant energy boost and clears the head; however, you should only do it once you’ve mastered the more basic and intermediate breathing techniques. This exercise involves quick, active, forced exhalation, using the stomach like a pump to force the air out of your nose. Inhalation will occur passively as you release your abdomen. Choose anywhere from 30 to 120 strokes (exhales), depending on your level of practice, and complete three rounds. Pick a tempo that suits you, and don’t push yourself into discomfort – like all these deep breathing exercises, it takes practice to master. Finish each round with a full exhale, then complete inhale and hold for a few counts before returning to your natural rhythm.

9. Bhastrika Pranayama

Once you have perfected your Kapalabhati Pranayama, you can take it to the next level with Bhastrika Pranayama, also called Bellows Breath. This is a more intense version of this deep breathing exercise and should be learned from an experienced teacher. It’s a warming breath that improves blood circulation, burns toxins, and strengthens the nervous system. While Kapalabhati uses active exhales but passive inhales, in Bhastrika, you’re actively and forcefully breathing both ways. Your abdomen will pump in and out like the bellows of a blacksmith. It’s essential to listen to your body, take it slow, and acknowledge your limits. Choose a rhythm you’re comfortable with to start before working up to around two breaths per second. Begin with one to two rounds of 15 to 20 exhalations, with more calming pranayama such as yogic or Ujjayi between rounds to bring the breath back to normal.

10. Sit Cari Pranayama

Combat the heat of summer with the Sit Cari Pranayama or Hissing Breath. It can cool your body down, control high blood pressure, and help with stress and depression. Mouth and tongue position is important with this deep breathing exercise. To inhale, open your mouth in a wide, gentle smile with your teeth together but not clenched. Gently press the tip of your tongue to the back of your lower teeth. As you take a deep, long breath in, it should make a hissing sound as the air pulls in through your teeth, over your tongue, and into your diaphragm. Then, to exhale, relax your mouth completely and release the breath through your nose. Once you’ve completed a few of these breaths, you should start to feel the coolness in your mouth. Aim for at least ten rounds of this pranayama.

11. Shitali Pranayama

Shitali Pranayama is another cooling deep breathing exercise that’s great for beating the heat. It cools the body, lowers blood pressure, calms inflammation, and soothes the mind for a feeling of tranquillity. Sit comfortably with a straight spine, and exhale all the air out of your lungs and diaphragm. Roll the sides of your tongue into the middle to create a straw shape that you’ll inhale through. Take a big, long breath in, then relax your face and close your mouth to breathe out through your nose. Repeat five to ten times until you’re feeling cooler and calmer. Remember that not everyone can roll their tongue, so if you can’t, just do your best or opt for the Sit Cari Pranayama instead.

12. Chandra Bhedana Pranayama

Where Nadi Sodhana alternates breathing between both nostrils, Chandra Bhedana Pranayama is left nostril breathing only. Placing your hands into Vishnu Mudra, you’ll close the right nostril as you inhale through the left. Then, to exhale, block the left and breathe out through the right for twice the amount of time you inhaled. Continue to breathe in through the left and out the right for ten cycles. This deep breathing exercise will stimulate the Ida Nadi, which is the more calming of the major energy channels and is associated with the moon and cooling. Doing so can help eliminate excess heat in the body, aid menstruation, reduce tension and stress, and lower blood pressure.

13. Surya Bhedana Pranayama

The opposite of left nostril breathing is Surya Bhedana Pranayama, or right nostril breathing. It’s the same technique as above, using the Vishnu Mudra to close off each nostril as applicable. In this case, you’ll inhale on the right side, then exhale on the left. Whatever count you breathe in for, aim to exhale for twice the amount of time. The right nostril is the termination point of the Pingala Nadi, or energy channel, which is associated with the sun and warmth and is more invigorating. This practice will increase your energy, help relieve anxiety, treat low blood pressure, and activate the sympathetic nervous system.

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