Breathing is essential to keep us alive and so guaranteed that most of us take it for granted. The power of breath cannot be overstated. It has the ability to help us heal mentally, physically and emotionally. It can improve many aspects of life if we take the time to pay attention to it and give it the focus it deserves.

Using our breath can improve our sleep, cardiovascular function and mental clarity. Practicing breathing exercises has the ability to enhance many aspects of health and our quality of life. The next time you inhale, pause, slow it down. Mindfully appreciate the exhale. Maybe try some of the techniques below:

4 -7- 8 Breath Relaxation Exercise

Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of 4.
Hold your breath for a count of 7.
Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of 8.
This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths

Are the numbers important? The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.

Why should I do it? This exercise is a natural tranquiliser for the nervous system. Unlike tranquilising drugs, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it but gains in power with repetition and practice. Use this new skill whenever anything upsetting happens – before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension. Use it to help you fall asleep.

How often should I use it? Do it at least twice a day. You cannot do it too frequently. Do not do more than four breaths at one time for the first month of practice. Later, if you wish, you can extend it to eight breaths. If you feel a little lightheaded when you first breathe this way, do not be concerned – it will pass. It can also be used on an as needed basis.

Anchor breathing

1 Imagine being on a boat, feeling calm, and safe.
2 Attached to the boat is an anchor. It keeps you there, where you want, and happy.
3 Our bodies, like the boat, also have anchors, and they can help us focus. Our belly, our nose and mouth, and our chest and lungs can help us feel grounded.
4 With your hands on your chest, breathe in deeply.
5 Breathe out slowly.
6 Feel your ribs rise and fall.
7 As your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the anchor point.

Triangle Breathing

1. Sit down in a comfortable position with your spine straight.
2. Bring awareness to your breath for a few cycles.
3. Start doing a few cycles of deep breathing.
4. Imagine an inverted triangle with the horizontal base on the upper end.
5. As you inhale, count up to 4 imagining that with each count you go up one side of the triangle.
6. Hold your breath for 4 counts as you imagine going through the base of the top of the inverted triangle.
7. Exhale counting up to 4 imagining that with each count you go down the other side of the triangle. 8. Repeat this cycle for a few minutes.