Breathing Techniques for Relaxation

Dr. Craig Hudson, MD | April 7, 2016

There is something to be said about practicing relaxation and having a “you” moment every now and again; and if you can get in to the habit of dedicating 5-10 minutes each night, even better! Relaxation practices can lead to stress management, more energy, increased immunity, decreased headaches, pain and anxiety, and YES, you guessed it – better sleep!

Now, in recognizing that meditation isn’t for everyone, we have compiled a few simple breathing techniques that you can try at home.

These exercises won’t take more than a few minutes to complete and can be very beneficial.  

Progressive Relaxation

If you carry tension in your muscles, this technique might be for you. Progressive relaxation combines focused deep breathing and muscle relaxation.

  • Begin by sitting or lying down in a comfortable position where your limbs can move freely.
  • Direct your attention to your feet to start this exercise.
  • Tense the muscles in your toes and hold the tension while you take a deep breath for a count of three to five seconds.
  • Release the tension slowly as you exhale.
  • Repeat this exercise as you move up the sections of your body until you reach your head and jaw.

    This exercise is relatively easy to perform, but if you feel lightheaded at any point, try reducing the amount of time that you hold your breath.

    The “Relaxing Breath” Technique

    Also known as the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise, this technique was developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, a Harvard Medical School Alum. While this exercise can be performed in any position, Weil recommends sitting in an upright position with a straight back during the learning process.

  • Begin by placing the tip of your tongue against the rough edge of the roof of your mouth where your front teeth meet your gum line.
  • Exhale via your mouth. This motion will make a “wooshing” sound—that’s what you want to hear!
  • Shut your mouth and inhale through your nose while silently counting to four. When you reach four, hold your breath while counting to seven.
  • At count seven, you can exhale through your mouth over a count of eight. Be sure that your tongue is still pressed to the gum line.
  • Repeat these steps three more times.

    Dr. Weil recommends using this technique for easing any tension you might feel during the day, or as a sleep aid.


    Have you ever been told to “go to your happy place” in times of stress or high anxiety? Visualization takes this idea and adds another layer to it—deep breathing. Before getting started, carve out a few minutes in the day when you can sit undisturbed with your eyes closed. You will want to stay especially focused for this one.

    To begin, imagine all of the things that bring you genuine joy. It could be a favourite food, a treasured memory or place that’s entirely made up. Flood your brain with these positive thoughts, and as you do, draw a deep breath. Keep your mind fixed on the things that bring you joy, and all the while, take slow deliberate breaths. After a few minutes you should feel your body starting to loosen up. This one will probably take a few attempts to master, but it will help you become more adept at turning your thoughts away from a cycle of panic and stress.

    Try these relaxation techniques at any time during the day to decompress or before bed to help relax your mind and body before sleep.