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Instant Zen

Life is full of stressors, from child-rearing and pandemic maneuvering to work deadlines and traffic. Fortunately, our body has a built-in superpower to cut stress on the spot. Science shows that diaphragmatic, or deep belly, breathing taps into the body’s natural relaxation response. It can slow the heart rate, stabilize or lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety and even sharpen cognitive function. Like any exercise, the more you practice, the easier it gets. Here, find the basics of a deep breathing routine.

  • Fill and empty your lungs completely. Subconscious breathing is shallow. For this practice, inhale through your nose, mindfully taking in as much air as possible. This will flatten the diaphragm (a muscle that lies beneath your lungs) and expand your abdomen, pushing your belly outward. Exhale slowly through your mouth, allowing your lungs to empty and your belly to deflate. 
  • Focus! Assume a position (either seated, lying down or standing) that’s comfortable, and take 30 seconds to a minute to concentrate only on your breathing. Experts recommend choosing a “habit anchor”—something that’s already part of your established routine, like brushing your teeth or driving to work—to link the new practice to. 
  • Try counting. There are a number of structured diaphragmatic breathing exercises out there (Google it and you’ll find a ton!), but one popular option is the 4-7-8 breathing method. For this, breathe in slowly to the count of four, hold your breath for seven seconds and exhale to the count of eight. If you have an Apple Watch, use the Breathe app as a guide. 

Photograph by Pheelings Media/shutterstock

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