A 5-Minute Breathing Exercise To Reduce Stress & Pain

Written by Darragh Sheehy

As a physical therapist and breathing consultant, I've seen countless clients who are dealing with pain issues, especially in the back, neck, or hip area. I know how much the presence of pain can limit their daily lives, and so I wanted to give my clients something they could do at home without requiring a health professional to be present.

Here, I'd like to share the easy exercise that I've found to be the most beneficial for reducing mild pain every day. It combines two essential things we all have at our disposal: breathing and movement.

Why does this exercise help? Slow breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, a cranial nerve that runs from the brain to the abdomen. This in turn activates our parasympathetic nervous system, where the body undergoes healing and relaxation. It also dampens the sympathetic nervous system, which is associated with stress, or the "fight or flight" response.

This exercise is easy for people of every activity level, and it's not just for those in pain — it can also be used as a posture reset for those who have muscle stiffness from long periods of sitting or standing.

It's something you can do yourself, with no equipment required, and see results right away. Let's get started:

Step 1: Focus on Your Breath (2 Minutes)

Lie on your back with both of your knees bent up, so that your feet are resting flat on the floor. Relax all your muscles and get comfortable. You may want to put a small pillow under your head, if you find that works for you.

Now, begin by breathing in and out through your nose. Why? This is a much more efficient way for us to breathe. At first, it may seem odd to consciously breathe through the nose, but I promise it will become natural with practice.

Continue to breathe as quietly as you can for the duration of this exercise. Ideally, if you're doing this correctly, you won't be able to hear yourself breathe. But don't try to control the breath out. Simply let your stomach muscles relax and follow the breath as it flows through your nostrils.

At this stage, your breathing should be quiet, relaxed, and rhythmic. Now let's add a gentle movement.

Step 2: Incorporate Gentle Movement (3 Minutes)

On your next breath out, push your feet firmer into the floor and lift your buttocks about 2 inches off of the floor, until you complete the breath out.

Then, return to the starting position by lowering your hips slowly onto the floor. At that time, take another breath in. Lift your hips again as you breathe out, and then lower at the end of the exhale. Repeat this process for three minutes.

After the Exercise

You can repeat this exercise throughout the day as you see fit. Many of my clients note reduced pain and greater ease of movement after one five-minute session. To find out if this exercise works for you, make a note of your pain level on a scale of 0 to 10 (where 0 is no pain and 10 is the worst pain imaginable). Do so before and after the exercise — and see what it can do for you.

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