If you’ve ever done yoga, it’s likely that you’re already familiar with doing some breathing exercises at the start and finish of a session. Yogis have always understood that controlling and changing your breath can help you calm down or amp up as needed. Now, psychologists are starting to discover this as well.
The exercise to calm your nerves is incredibly simple – simply take regular, gentle breaths with the nose at a pace of five total breaths per minute. This roughly translates to a 6-count for each inhalation and each exhalation. Start by keeping your eyes closed in order to maintain focus, but once you get the hang of it you can keep your eyes open and do it literally anytime, anywhere!
You can keep the time internally, or use a meditation app that can keep count in a non-distracting way, but it’s best not to count out loud or use visual cues like lights. That’s because this technique works by balancing out the sympathetic (“fight or flight”) and parasympathetic (resting) branches of the nervous system. The equal, balanced pace of the breathing signals the brain to stay alert but also be relaxed. It’s a kind of focused state of relaxation that allows you to get things done.
To get the most out of it, aim for 15-30 minute sessions. If you can’t do it for that long or don’t have the time, even a few minutes of breathing like this can still help. While adverse reactions are extremely rare, it is advised that people with asthma or other respiratory issues consult with a medical professional first and practice the exercise under supervision.