Breathing Exercises Calm Mind and Body

Breathing Exercises Calm Mind and Body

Information Resources

By Evelyn Cunico, MA, MSLIS
Posted on October 02, 2016


How can you calm your mind and your body to help manage the stress of everyday life challenges?

Be Aware.
The first step is to learn to be aware that you are feeling stress. For example, if you feel tension in your neck or shoulders, be aware that you are feeling stress.

The second step is to choose a way to manage your stress. For example, if possible, choose to avoid the event that leads to your stress. If you cannot avoid the event, make a decision to change the way you react to stress.

The third step is to practice your new reaction to stress before you experience a stressful event. For example, just as you may schedule 30 minutes of physical exercise into your day, set aside 15 minutes of each day to practice slow, focused breathing.

Practice is Key to Success

There is no single, correct approach for activating the body’s Relaxation Response or using any other mind body technique, according to Herbert Benson, M.D., Mind Body Medical Institute Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, and Director Emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.

For example, some persons do not enjoy being still, so they might prefer focused breathing while doing yoga exercises. However, whichever technique you choose, you must regularly practice that technique to gain benefits.

The goal is to break the train of everyday thoughts, so that your mind and body can relax, according to Benson.

Relaxation Response

Following are steps that can activate the Relaxation Response, a phrase that Benson created in the 1970s to identify the body’s physiological reaction that is opposite to the stress (fight or flight) response.

  • Select a word, a sound, a short prayer, a phrase, or an image, or focus only on your breathing during the exercise.
  • Sit comfortably in a quiet place and close your eyes.
  • Breathe slowly and naturally. As you exhale, repeat or picture silently your word or phrase, or just focus on your breathing.
  • If you keep thinking of other things, do not judge yourself for this, but just return to your focus word and your breath.
  • Continue to repeat these steps for ten to twenty minutes.
  • Practice this exercise once or twice daily.

When practicing this exercise, these are the two most important things to remember, according to Benson:

  • Repetition
  • Letting go of other thoughts

For more information, see the Selected Information Resources that follow this blog.

Disclaimer: The information presented in this blog should not replace the medical advice of your doctor. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any disease, illness, or other health condition without first consulting with your medical doctor or other healthcare provider.

Selected Information Resources

American Academy of Family Physicians. Stress: How to Cope Better with Life’s Challenges
Summary Note: Tips and exercise steps for managing stress
(Accessed 22 September 2016)

Benson, Herbert, M.D. and William Proctor, J.D. The Relaxation Revolution: Enhancing Your Personal Health through the Science and Genetics of Mind Body Healing. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 2010.
Summary Note: Book highlights scientific evidence that the mind can restructure thinking processes to expect good health, and that the expectation, in turn, influences the body to change its genetic activity in a healthful direction.

Benson, Herbert, M.D. with Marg Stark. Timeless Healing: The Power and Biology of Belief. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1996.
Summary Note: Chapter 6: The Relaxation Response

Cunico, Evelyn, M.A., M.S. Meditation: Resources for Stress Management. CHIME Consumer Health. November 2014.
Summary Note: Blog identifies resources on the history of meditation, scientific research on meditation, and meditation features, such as relaxed breathing. References link to the Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health.
(Accessed 25 September 2016)

National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Relaxation Techniques for Health. Summary Note: Describes relaxation techniques that science researchers have evaluated to find whether the techniques might help to manage a variety of stated health conditions. Includes References and consumer information about NIH Clinical Research Trials.
(Accessed 22 September 2016)

National Institutes of Health. U.S. National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. Relaxation Techniques for Stress.
Summary Note: Patient instructions on simple ways to relax, including breathing slowly, biofeedback, progressive relaxation, yoga, and tai chi. Emphasizes the importance of regular, frequent practice.
(Accessed 07 September 2016)

Nemours Foundation. TeensHealth. Yoga: Meditation and Breathing
Summary Note: Explains that meditation and focused breathing are important parts of yoga. Practical step-by-step breathing approaches, with or without yoga. Encourages visualization and daily breathing exercises to develop calmness and self-assurance.
(Accessed 24 September 2016)