How to Do Deep Breathing Exercises

Feeling uptight or stressed out? You can help your body to feel immediately more relaxed and refreshed in moments with some simple deep breathing techniques. Of all of the available relaxation exercises, deep breathing exercises are the most portable — you can do them anytime, anywhere and no one will know what you are up to.

Woman relaxing in a park on a sunny day
Ben Pipe Photography / Cultura / Getty Images

Like all skills, the more you practice deep breathing exercises, the better you will get at calming your body more quickly and more deeply. Set a timer on your smartphone to remind you to take a few moments morning and night to practice. Once you have mastered the techniques, you can use your newly developed skill throughout your day, whenever you feel that you are starting to tense up.


  1. Sit upright in a comfortable chair with your feet placed side by side on the floor. Close your eyes.
  2. Place one hand on your belly, with your pinky finger just above your belly button.
  3. Start to pay attention to the rise and fall of your belly. What you are feeling is your diaphragm, working to draw air in and out of your lungs.
  4. Notice that as you breathe in, it feels like a balloon is being filled with your hand. As you breathe out it should feel like the balloon is deflating.
  5. Place your other hand on your chest. You will want to try to keep this hand as still as possible and to just let the diaphragm do all of the work of breathing. While you are at it, keep your shoulders relaxed — you don't need your shoulders to breathe!
  6. Inhale slowly to the count of three.
  7. Then exhale slowly to the count of three, thinking the word "relax" as you do so.
  8. Stay focused on the action of your diaphragm. Your bottom hand should move outward as you fill your lungs with air and move inward as you exhale.

Power Tip

Thinking the word “relax” as you exhale turns the word into a cue. The brain will then associate this word with the action of inducing a state of relaxation throughout your body.

Do not hold your breath at the end of your inhales or exhales. With practice, it will become easier to lengthen your breaths so that the breathing will be smooth and continuous.

Do practice this formally twice per day. As you become proficient you will find that you can use this breathing exercise without closing your eyes. It thus will be a tool you can access whenever you need to calm your body — e.g. when sitting in traffic, while at work, when running late or when you find yourself dealing with a difficult person.

Why Do Deep Breathing Exercises?

Deep breathing exercises are a way for you to turn off your body's natural response to stress. The stress response, also known as our fight or flight reflex, was designed to help us to survive immediate threats to our survival. Although we typically no longer face hungry predators, our bodies still respond to the stressors of modern life in the same way — our hearts speed up, our breathing becomes more rapid and our muscles tense up.

Unfortunately, there are health risks associated with chronic stimulation of our stress response. Heart disease, weight gain and digestive problems like IBS are a few examples. Luckily, actively engaging in various mind/body activities, such as deep breathing exercises can help your body to relax, recharge, and experience more resiliency in the face of life stressors.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. NIH: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Relaxation Techniques for Health: What You Need To Know.

  2. Salleh MR. Life event, stress and illnessMalays J Med Sci. 2008;15(4):9–18.

By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.