Kristin Welter, M.D.
Kristin Welter, M.D.

To help reduce stress, manage chronic conditions and enhance relaxation, incorporate breathing techniques into your daily routine.

You’ve probably had a doctor ask you to take a deep breath while listening to your lungs. But did you know that’s a worthwhile practice outside the doctor’s office, too? The simple act of breathing deeply can have beneficial effects on your physical and mental health. Unfortunately, many people struggle with it and instead breathe shallowly in their daily lives.

Various cultures have long used breathing techniques, such as yogic breathing, also known as pranayama, in Eastern traditions. These practices involve controlled breathing patterns that are often combined with meditation or yoga, aiming to enhance spiritual well-being and overall health. While these techniques have ancient roots, they’ve gained recent popularity due to their proven benefits and the growing interest in holistic approaches to healthcare.

Research shows that practicing slow, deep breathing for just a few minutes a day can have significant health benefits, including:

  • Lowered blood pressure.
  • Improved endothelial function, crucial for heart health.
  • Reduced levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
  • Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for resting and digesting.
  • Reduced blood sugar levels.
  • Better sleep and mood.
  • Symptom relief for conditions such as chronic pain, hot flashes and diabetes.

Two of breathing exercises’ primary benefits are relaxation and stress reduction. Long-term stress can lead to a range of health problems, including muscle tension, digestive disorders, headaches, sleep disturbances, depression and anxiety. Breathing exercises stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system while inhibiting the sympathetic nervous system, fostering a sense of calm and mitigating stress hormones’ negative impact. You can use breathing exercises as a day-to-day preventive practice or in a moment of acute stress.

Breathing exercises—complementing rather than replacing conventional medical treatments—are most effective as part of a comprehensive treatment plan and under the guidance of healthcare professionals. Discuss your symptoms and health goals with your doctor to get breathing exercises specific to your needs and coordinated care.

The simple act of taking a deep breath can have profound beneficial effects on your physical and mental health.

Here are three breathing techniques to try at home. Choose one or try a combination for five to ten minutes daily before bedtime.

Diaphragmatic Breathing (Belly Breathing)

  • Place one hand over your abdomen and the other on your chest.
  • Slowly take a deep breath in through your nose. Focus on your breath moving your abdomen out to pull more air into your lungs. The hand on your chest shouldn’t move very much.
  • Breathe out slowly through pursed lips. Gently press on your belly as you breathe out. This will push up on your diaphragm to help get the air out.
  • Repeat.

Box Breathing

Navy SEALs use box breathing as a quick way to control their nervous system, helping them stay focused and precise during critical operations.

  • Breathe in through your nose for about four seconds, as if you’re smelling something.
  • Hold your breath for four to seven seconds. Try not to inhale or exhale during this time.
  • Breathe out very slowly through your mouth for about eight seconds.
  • Repeat.

4-7-8 Breathing (Relaxing Breath)

4-7-8 has ancient roots in pranayama, the yogic practice of breath regulation. During the entire practice, place the tip of your tongue against the ridge behind your upper front teeth. You’ll be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue.

  • Completely exhale through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  • Close your mouth and quietly inhale through your nose to a mental count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale through your mouth, making a whoosh sound for a count of eight.
  • Repeat the process three more times for a total of four breath cycles.

Kristin Welter, M.D., has practiced as a primary care doctor with Sutter since 1999. Los Gatos Concierge Medicine, a membership-based service of Sutter’s Palo Alto Medical Foundation, offers easy access to your doctors, in-depth appointments and coordinated care with specialists at Sutter and beyond. For more information, call 408-523-3344 or visit

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