A Guide to Breathing That Will Help You Stay Calm

By Daniel Leon Stern | Originally published in Sand Magazine

Our bodies know how to breathe, it’s something we do every single second, every single day as we inhale and exhale on average 20,000 times per day.


Breathing is for most of us an automatic behavior, we inhale and exhale without being aware of the inward and outward flow of air. Autopilot breathing. However, this simple movement of air has great power. Scientific research has shown that being aware of our breath, mindful breathing, and trying to consciously control its movement is one of the most effective ways to lower our stress levels, boost our immunity and become more centered and balanced. There is a good reason why often we hear the words “keep breathing” or “just breathe”.


This is nothing new and yet this simple instruction is often forgotten as we rush ahead, jump out of bed and become consumed with the distractions especially during this challenging and concerning period. 


For centuries yogis have practiced breath control, pranayama, to aid concentration and improve vitality while the Buddha advocated breathing meditation as a way to obtain enlightenment and equanimity. When we are spinning with thoughts and stress, we can breathe too much, too fast. When we are feeling disconnected and slow, we produce too little.


The breathing techniques below offer that sweet spot between being conscious of your breath, controlling the inhalations and exhalations, while allowing your body to do what it does best since birth.  Sometimes, simply taking a moment to pause, slow down and rest the mind can be enough to bring ease and clarity to any situation.

Breathing exercises can help develop the tools we need for self-soothing and self-regulating as we navigate life. 


Counting Breath – To self-regulate and gain clarity.

  • Sit up and let your spine grow tall.

  • Take a deep breath in, counting silently 1, 2, 3.

  • Then let your breath out, counting silently 1, 2, 3.

  • Repeat three times.


Belly Breathing To self-soothe and feel calm and comforted.

  • Lie down on your back.

  • Place one hand on your chest.

  • Place the other hand on your belly.

  • Take slow deep breaths and feel your chest and your belly move up and down as the air goes in and out of your body. 

  • Repeat three times.


Pranic Breathing  – To draw in and distribute energy throughout your physical body.

  • Gently place your tongue on the roof of your mouth to circulate energy throughout the body.

  • Inhale through your nose for 6 counts.

  • Hold your breath for 3 counts.

  • Exhale through your nose for 6 counts.

  • Hold your breath for 3 counts.

  • This 6-3-6-3 breathing completes one cycle.


Nostril Breathing – To balance both the right and left hemispheres of the brain, reduce anxiety and stress.

  • Sit up straight and make sure you are comfortable with your legs crossed.

  • Put your right hand in front of your face, then close your right nostril with your thumb and exhale through the left nostril.

  • Inhale through the left nostril, and when complete, close it with the ring finger.

  • Release your thumb from the right nostril, then exhale slowly and steadily.

  • Inhale through the right nostril, and when complete, close it with the thumb.

  • Release the ring finger from the left nostril and exhale. 

  • These two full breaths are one cycle of the alternate nostril breathing exercise.

  • Repeat for several cycles.

  • Remember to breathe deeply from your diaphragm throughout.



Your breath is one of your best defenses against daily stress, anxiety and angst. Once you learn the art of expert inhaling and exhaling, you’ll start to feel better. The key to healthy and mindful breathing is awareness. Conscious breathing can allow us to find solid ground during shaky and stressful times. We must go easy and slowly into these techniques, taking it step by step, breath by breath.  


“For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth.” ~ Sanskrit Proverb

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