3 Breathing Exercises to Reduce Anxiety and Stress

5 Mins Read

Maintaining mental health hygiene should be as normal as maintaining our general hygiene. But one thing we often forget to do is to take care of our mental health.

If you have no clue where to start managing your stress—look no further than right under your nose! As a trained Breathwork coach, I am here to tell you that conscious breathing can help you reduce anxiety, build a bulletproof immune system, focus better and so much more.

Source: The Times

Anxiety and depressive disorders are the most common health issues in Hong Kong and over 50 percent of Hong Kong adults suffer from poor mental well-being, according to Mind HK, an NGO committed to improving our understanding of mental health and removing the stigma around mental health in Hong Kong. 

In a survey conducted by Hong Kong University in 2020, 26.9 percent of the respondents were experiencing moderate-high levels of anxiety and 18.2 percent shared they were having moderate-high levels of depression. These numbers are significant and worrying.

And while breathing techniques are not to be treated as a medical cure for diseases, practicing them daily will significantly improve your physical and mental health, help you to achieve a calm state and more clarity, and release emotional blockages.

There is a whole range of breathing techniques out there, it’s much more than just inhaling and exhaling. We chose 3 breathing techniques that we love doing when we feel anxious and worried. You can do them anywhere but we do recommend you to try to find a quiet place where you can be fully focused on the exercise. Note: if you are currently pregnant or have high blood pressure, be cautious and stop if you feel uncomfortable at any time.

Source: Unsplash

#1: Empty your garbage bin

This exercise has different names and comes from the Sufi breathwork tradition (an esoteric path within Islam, where the goal is to purify oneself and achieve mystical union with the Supreme Allah). Sufis bring together breathing, movement, music and prayer. 

‘Empty your garbage bin’ is one of the most basic Sufi techniques. Imagine that your head is a trash bin full of useless thoughts, beliefs and fears. It’s gotten so full that it’s time to clean it up! 

Sit down on the floor (or a chair) and make an intention. It could be one word or a sentence. If nothing comes up, you can use this one: “Every day I’m feeling better in every way”.

The sequence is simple:

  • Shoot two inhales and move your head upwards.
  • Shoot one exhale and move your head downwards.
  • You can move your hands along your head to pace yourself.
  • Do it for 1 minute. Take a break and continue for another minute and increase the time to 10 minutes. Breathe through your mouth.

You might feel lightheaded and even “high” – this is because your body may intake more oxygen which causes lower CO2 levels in your brain. The instant benefit of it? You will feel empty of any thoughts and get into the state of expanded consciousness for some time.

World-renowned breathwork guru, Dan Brule recommends to cooperate, participate, and harmonise with the flow of breath in this exercise. “Continue to breathe regardless of what you think, what you feel, and regardless of what happens in the body. Just stay with the breath and trust the process”.

Source: Unsplash

#2: Tactical Breathing

If you are looking for something more relaxing but still powerful, try tactical breathing. This technique is widely used and endorsed by US clinical psychologist Dr Belisa Vranich, who coaches firefighters, military, and pro athletes.

The sequence:

  • Inhale for 4 counts.
  • Hold your breath for 4 counts.
  • Exhale for 6 counts.
  • Hold for 2 counts.
  • Repeat as many times as you want. You can practice it literally anywhere and in any position. Breathe through your nose.

If you are familiar with the breathing technique called Box breathing you might wonder about the differences with this- Box breathing is about inhaling, exhaling, and holding your breath for the same count: normally 4 or 5. “The smaller hold gets you to create momentum and a pattern with your breathing. That will allow you to be more focused on the breath”, explains senior Breathe (TM) instructor, Crystal Hernandez.

Source: Unsplash

#3 Coherent Breathing

This breathing technique is so calming that you may fall asleep. The physiological process involved here is syncing your heartbeat with your breath which immediately puts you in a parasympathetic state (rest and digest).

The sequence is the following:

  • Sit or lie down and place both hands on your belly.
  • Inhale for the count of 5
  • Exhale for the count of 5
  • Repeat for at least 20 minutes, with no pauses in-between.

Eventually, you can increase the count to 6, aiming for slow and long breaths that will activate the main breathing muscle – your diaphragm! As your diaphragm expands with each inhale your vital organs (think stomach, kidneys, spleen) will be massaged releasing cellular waste. Slower breathing will also bring your resting heart rate to 60 and put your entire system into recovery.

You can practice all 3 exercises or choose one that you like most. While they provide instant effect make sure you practice daily and observe your feelings and sensations.

Lead image courtesy of Pexels.


  • Flor De Luna

    Having previously reported on climate change and environmental issues for the media outlets in South America, Flor De Luna decided to make a bigger change when she moved to Hong Kong. Combining her storytelling and leadership skills, Flor has co-founded two startups focused on zero waste lifestyle and mindfulness, organized a number of events – from small meetups to big-scale conferences, including StartmeupHK Festival with Invest HK and multiple sustainability-themed Startup Weekends with Techstars.

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