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Stress Relief with 3 Conscious Breathwork Practices


Stress is part of life. We all face it on a regular basis at work, in our relationships, and running around doing our day-to-day tasks. While stress has a bad reputation in the health industry, modern research is finally catching up to what ancient Eastern traditions have known for centuries: changing our breathing pattern relieves stress and leads to a healthier state of being.

There are many ways to relieve stress that you have probably tried. Exercise, a hot bath, or calling a friend to tell them about your day. These are all great tools, but conscious breathing is an even quicker way to change the stress response in your body.

Simple breathwork techniques effectively train the body to better handle stressful situations. It’s very difficult to get rid of the stress in our lives, but rather than view stress as the enemy (or something we need to get rid of), let’s look at it as the signal we need to change something about our approach. After all, it’s our reaction to what happens in our life that shapes our experiences, not the things themselves.

When was the last time you took a breath with awareness? Conscious breathing is a term that refers to breathing that is done with mindfulness. We are breathing all of the time without even thinking about it. How amazing is it that our bodies do this automatically, without the need to pay attention to every single inhalation?

Learning to breathe consciously is as simple as placing your attention on your breath. Try noticing how you are breathing right now. Does your breath feel smooth and full or tight and shallow?

When we’re stressed our lungs take in less oxygen. This causes the body to tighten. When we’re anxious or worried the breathing pattern is usually pretty fast which turns on the sympathetic nervous system, our fight or flight response that turns on our stress hormones. Over time this excess hormone production is taxing on the body and can lead to fatigue and other health issues.

The opposite is true in a relaxed state where our breathing patterns are slower and deeper. Breathing with awareness engages the parasympathetic nervous system, the one that is in charge of calming us down. This has a positive impact on our health by keeping our stress hormones in check and quieting busy minds.

The beauty of conscious breathing is that it is free, can be practiced anywhere, and is one of the most direct tools for creating a different relationship to stress and optimizing well being. In as little as a couple of minutes, you can bring your mind and body into alignment and empower yourself to stay present with whatever you are going through. Choose one of the techniques and try it for a few minutes every day for the next week. Over time and with practice you will know how long you need to do a particular breathwork technique to feel centered and calm.

Conscious Breathwork Practices for Stress Relief x Ashley Neese

Ocean Breath

Have you ever been to a yoga class where the teacher instructed you to breathe deeply in and out through your nose? This ujjayi breath is the foundational breathing technique taught in Hatha yoga. It translates as ‘victorious breath’. It is also often referred to as ‘ocean breath’ for the subtle sound it makes when you slightly constrict your throat muscles on the inhale and exhale. The small amount of muscle tension helps calm the mind as your breathe eventually brings you into a deep state of relaxation. Ujjayi breath balances the entire body and helps release anxiety, tension and worry which are all associated with stress.

The practice:

Sit up tall in a chair on on the floor. Rest your hands on your knees. Gently close your eyes. Begin breathing deeply in and out through the nose. With each inhale and exhale lightly constrict your throat, more specifically the epiglottis. Keep this contraction engaged the entire time. Bring your awareness to the sound of the breath and and focus on making it deeper and smoother as you continue to breathe. Start with 3 minutes in the morning or evening.


Extended Exhales

Making your exhalation a few counts longer than your inhale is a quick way to calm yourself down. The slower you breathe the more your mind will relax. This is an excellent technique for balancing emotions, quieting the mind, and regulating anxiety. If you ever have issues falling asleep,  this is a great practice to try in bed.

The practice:

Sit up tall in a chair or on the floor. You can also practice this lying down. Close your eyes to take the focus inward. Breathe in and out through the nose for a few rounds to settle in. When you are ready, make each exhale 2-3 counts longer than the inhale. Continue in this pattern until you are completely relaxed and calm. Start with 2 minutes any time you need some restoration.


Left Nostril Breathing

If you feel agitated, angry, stressed out, frantic or just overloaded with emotions this is a fast acting exercise. Breathing in and out through the left nostril brings in cooling energy to help soothe a frayed nervous system and harmonize emotions. Consciously breathing through the left nostril recalibrates the body and restores peaceful feelings that helps us ground into the present moment.

The practice:

Sit up tall in a chair or on the floor. Close your eyes and cover your right nostril with your right index finger. Don’t press too hard, just enough so that the air flows freely through the left side. Begin taking slow breaths in and out through the left nostril for one minute.
Taking the time to make conscious breathing part of our lives changes how we live in each moment everything. When we’re not in a constant state of stress it is much easier to make decisions, take care of ourselves, and deal with whatever situations needs our attention. When we’re in high alert mode we’re not firing properly on all cylinders. Commit to making one of these conscious breathwork practices part of your tool kit and improve your stress response, emotional state, metabolism, and well being.

And if you would like to dive deeper into breathwork and its incredible power to shift your relationship to yourself, stress, and beyond I would love to support you in a session


Photos x Lani Trock





  • Lizzie

    Hi Ashley! Thanks for this beautiful post. I am always amazed at the difference that conscious breathing brings to my mind and body. One thing I struggle with is how to introduce this tool in moments of conflict or stress with another person. For example, when having a difficult conversation with my partner, or in a tense work meeting. In situations where I can easily take a few moments to close my eyes and just breathe for a few moments, I find its super helpful. But in the middle of a meeting, I cannot slip away to take some deep breaths alone (although I often wish I could), so I find it challenging to use my breath to remain calm, while also being an attentive listener or communicator. Any advice?

    • ashley

      Hi Lizzie,
      It is great to hear from you. Thank you for taking the time to share and let us know what you’re working on. I teach a great deal of corporate breathwork and encourage the students to breathe consciously during their meetings. Many of them are high level executives with super stressful meeting schedules. What we have found that works best is simply taking long inhales and exhales through your nose while gently pressing the soles of your feet onto the floor. No need to close your eyes or make a lot of noise, it is such a simple and effective practice and the bonus is no one will even know you’re doing it! I suggest 3 breaths for this practice. If you can take a couple more that is great but start with three and let me know how it goes! x

  • chiara

    Dear Ashley,
    I am reading your journal since last summer, and now it’s time to send you a big thank you.
    After some difficult months last year (because of my reaction to an healthy issue) I decided to see it as an opportunity to know better myself also in order to learn to listen to my body and to my mind and to learn to take better care of them. Your words have been a huge inspiration for this decision and made me feel quite close to some of your thoughts lately. You even made me write my own gratitude list yesterday!
    About breathwork: I usually do the extended exhales at the beginning of meditation sessions or before yoga to calm down and make a cut from my day up to that moment. Here is my question: isn’t meditating actually a long breathing exercise? I started meditating just two months ago, so I’m not sure that I got the point yet..
    A hug from Germany,

    • ashley

      Hi Chiara,
      Thank you for writing, it is wonderful to hear some of your story and connect with you. I love that you wrote a gratitude list! That makes my night. Please feel free to share them here any time. You are always welcome to. I am very glad to hear that you used your health issue as an opportunity to take better care of yourself and listen to your body, that is a very big deal.

      Your question is great. Yes, meditation can be a long breathing exercise if you are using the breath as your anchor and focusing on it throughout your practice. Sometimes in meditation people focus on sounds or visual images, or any number of things, if you are keeping a gentle attention on your breath during your mediation then it can absolutely be a long breathing exercise. You can do that and if you like you can try another one of the practices I mention and see how it feels on its own. Keep us posted and thanks again for reaching out. Lots of love. x

  • Hi Ashley, the 2nd one is the coolest breathwork technique I’ve learned and I can highly recommend it if someone has trouble falling asleep. I use this one since almost two years now when I wake up during the night and it works almost all the time. Now I only almost have to think (or write) about it to get my body and mind relaxed and ready for sleep. :-) The two others I will keep in mind for daytime. ;-) Have a great day and thank you very much! Corina

    • ashley

      Hello Corina,
      It is great to hear from you! Thank you for sharing your experience with the second technique, it is wonderful to learn that it has helped you sleep. Your share is really powerful as it is a great reminder of the wisdom our bodies hold when we create patterns and habits that support us. I’ll be curious to learn about your experiences with the other practices. Please keep up posted! Wishing you a beautiful weekend. x

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