Breathing Exercises for Stress Relief

If stress relief is your goal in practicing the internal arts then your primary focus should be breath work. There are other components and exercises we will look into but breath gives us the most immediate access to our sympathetic nervous system and re-balancing in response to stressors. Though stress is a psychological response it has easily read physical markers. By addressing the physical expression of stress we can mitigate its negative effects and also begin to retrain our psychological response to be less reactive to the source of the stress in the future.

Tai Chi breathing theory as it relates to stress relief

Automatic habits of breath can be broken down into three categories. Yin breath, which is longer on the inhale than the exhale. Yang breath, which is longer on the exhale and balanced breath as well. When we are thinking of stress relief we will often be using the Yin breath to calm the mind. Another characteristic of strained breathing is that the chest will often be tense and the breaths quick and shallow.



To see these patterns as they naturally occur look at the following examples:

When sleeping a person is at their most relaxed. Their breath will be deep, filling the abdomen and long on the inhale.

Think of jumping into cold water. You’d take short, quick breaths to rev up the body and prepare for the physical shock. These breaths will be longer on the inhale.

Working from those basic concepts we will look at how to use these observations of natural patterns to generate the calm and easy state of mind we are looking for.

Stress Relief Breathing Pattern:

tai chi portland Breathing Exercises for Stress ReliefTo calm an aggravated or anxious state we will use Yin breathing followed but continued reinforcement with balanced breathing.

  • Relax the body and move the breath into the abdomen.
  • Inahle for a slow count of four
  • Exhale for a slow count of six
  • Repeat 10 times


  • Inhale for a slow count of six
  • Exhale for a slow count of ten
  • Repeat 20 times

Finish by working a balanced breath of an even eight count on inhale and exhale. Work the balanced breath as long as needed to stabilize a calmer state of mind.

If stress relief is a goal for your training this exercise is a good basic tool which can be practiced by anyone.