Special relaxed breathing should be part of a total relaxation therapy program. This type of breathing can be helpful because of its quick calming effect. Relaxed breathing has been shown to help some people who have headaches, anxiety, high blood pressure, trouble falling asleep, Raynaud’s or other causes of cool or cold hands, hyperventilation, and other symptoms.

Relaxed breathing is a skill that can be learned. To be good at it, frequent practice is necessary. Before learning how to do relaxed breathing, it may be helpful to review the breathing process.


The purpose of breathing is to get oxygen into the body and to get carbon dioxide, a waste product, out of the body. The brain automatically controls breathing, including the size and frequency of the breath, based on signals from sensors in the lungs.

The lungs have no muscles of their own for breathing. The diaphragm is the major muscle of breathing. It is a dome- shaped muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity and forms a flexible, moving floor for the lungs. (illustrations) It stretches from the backbone to the front of the rib cage.

During inhalation or breathing in, the diaphragm flattens downward. This creates more space in the chest cavity allowing the lungs to fill more completely. During exhalation or breathing out, the diaphragm moves less than an inch. During vigorous exercise, it may move several inches up and down. Although the diaphragm functions automatically, its movements can also be voluntarily controlled.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Different methods of breathing involve movements of different areas of the trunk. Most people breathe by expanding and contracting their chest (chest breathing). Sometimes people lift their shoulders in an attempt to fill their lungs (shoulder breathing).

Diaphragmatic breathing, which involves an in-and-out movement of the abdomen, is a very good method for breathing and relaxation because it allows the most efficient exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide with the least effort. It also helps enhance general relaxation. Chest and especially shoulder breathing are relatively inefficient.

Infants and children usually use diaphragmatic breathing. Adults, however, often change their breathing patterns, usually as an adaptation to stress. When psychological and physiological defenses to stress are activated, the chest muscles are used for breathing. Since diaphragmatic breathing involves slight extension of the abdomen, many adults try to avoid this.

Proper relaxed breathing is an important part of good physical and mental health. With relaxed breathing, the shoulders do not move up and the chest does not move out as they do when you take what is commonly called a deep breath. Air flows smoothly into and out of the lungs rather than being drawn in forcefully and blown out. The abdomen rises with each inhalation and lowers with each exhalation.


Read through these relaxed breathing procedures, then try relaxed breathing on your own.

-Initially it is easier to practice relaxed breathing while lying on your back in a bed, a recliner chair, or on a well-padded floor. Once you can breathe easily in this position, practice while sitting and, later, while standing.

-Loosen any tight clothing, especially around your abdomen and waist.

-Place you feet slightly apart. Rest one hand comfortably on your abdomen near

your navel. Place the other hand on your chest. (illustrations) initially, you might

be more comfortable with your eyes closed.

-Inhale through your nose because this allows the air to be filtered and warmed.

Exhale through your mouth. If you have nasal stuffiness or other nasal difficulty,

inhale through your mouth.

-Quietly concentrate on your breathing for a few minutes and become aware of which hand is rising and falling with each breath.

-Gently exhale most of the air in your lungs.

-Inhale while counting slowly to four, about one second per count. As you inhale gently, slightly extend you abdomen, causing it to rise about one inch. You should be able to feel the movement with your hand. Remember, do not pull your shoulders up or move your chest.

-As you breathe in, imagine the warmed and relaxing air flowing in. Imagine this warmth flowing to all parts of your body.

-As air flows out, imagine that tension is also flowing out.

-Pause one second after exhaling.

-If it is difficult to inhale and exhale to a count of four, shorten the count slightly and, later, work up to four. If you experience light-headedness, alter the length or depth of your breathing.

-Repeat the slow inhaling, pausing, slow exhaling and pausing about five to 10 times. As you practice, remember that initially every breath will not reach the lower parts of the lungs. This will improve with practice. The idea is to passively concentrate on slow, even, easy breathing.

-If you have some difficulty making your breathing regular, take a slightly deeper breath, hold it for a second or two, then let it out slowly through pursed lips for about ten seconds. Repeat this once or twice and return to the other procedure.

-Now try repeating the relaxed breathing procedure. Exhale. Inhale slowly: one, two, three, four. Pause. Exhale slowly: one two, three, four. Pause. Inhale: one, two, three, four. Pause. Exhale: one, two, three, four. Pause. Continue on your own.


These guidelines will help you use relaxed breathing as part of your relaxation therapy program.


By Physiologist Edmund Jacobson

PROGRESSIVE MUSCLE RELAXATION is a stress management approach that enables persons to relearn the natural sensation of deep relaxation. Chronic stress and/or trauma can leave an individual with high levels of muscle tension. By paying close attention to the sensation as one tightens and relaxes a muscle a person a can release the muscle tension and learn to quiet the body at will.

General Instructions: Tense each muscle group in sequence taking care to avoid any strain. Pay attention to the sensation, hold the position five seconds, then relax again, noting the feeling, allowing the muscles to go absolutely limp. Take at least twelve minutes to complete these eighteen muscle groups, any faster is at too quick a pace. If possible, tape record this exercise. Practice regularly or twice a day.

  1. Clench both fists – note tension in hand and forearm – relax.
  2. Touch shoulders with fingers, raise arms – note tension in biceps and upper arms – relax.
  3. Shrug shoulders, raise as high as possible, note tension in shoulders – relax.
  4. Wrinkle forehead – note tension about eyes and forehead – relax.
  5. Close eyes tightly – study tension – relax with eyes lightly closed.
  6. Press tongue into roof of mouth – note tension in mouth and chin – relax.
  7. Press teeth together tightly – note tension in mouth - relax.
  8. Push head backward – note tension in neck and upper back - relax.
  9. Push head forward, bury chin in chest – note tension in neck and shoulders – relax.
  10. Arch your back, move away from back of chair, push arms backward – note tension in back and shoulders – relax.
  11. Take a deep breath and hold it – note tension in chest and back – relax.
  12. Take two deep breathes of air, hold, and exhale – note your breathing becoming slower and more relaxed – relax.
  13. Suck in stomach, try to make it reach your spine – note feeling of tension in stomach – relax, noting your breathing becoming more regular.
  14. Tense stomach muscles – note tension in stomach – relax.
  15. Tense buttocks by raising self up on them – note tension.
  16. Flex thighs by straightening thighs – note tension – relax.
  17. Point toes upward toward face – note tension in feet and calves of legs – relax.
  18. Curl toes downward as if burying them in the sand – note tension in arches of the feet – relax.
  19. Briefer Versions: After consistent practice a shortened version can be incorporated.

    1. Focused on muscle groups most prone to tension. As you practice note the parts of the body most tense (e.g., jaw, back, stomach, etc.) After thorough practice and with a state of general muscle relaxation, during the day one can use these tension prone muscle groups as signals of high stress. Periodically check and relax these muscles with PROGRESSIVE MUSCLE RELAXATION.
    2. Combining muscle groups

1.Combining all facial and neck muscles at once (see steps 3—9) – relax.

2. Tense muscles of the arms and trunk (see steps 1, 2, 10, 11, & 14) – relax.

3. Tense lower body (see steps 15-17) – relax.




-The space between your eyes

-The space between your thumb and first finger on each hand

-The space between all your fingers

-That yours thumbs are filled with space

-That your middle fingers are filled with space

-That your fourth fingers are filled with space

-That your little fingers are filled with space

-That your hands and fingers are filled with space

-That the region between your wrists and your elbows is filled with space

-That the region between your elbows and shoulders is filled with space

-That the region between your shoulders is filled with space

-That the regions inside your shoulders, and the regions between your shoulders and fingertips are simultaneously filled with space

-The space between your toes

-That your toes are filled with space

-That your feet and toes are filled with space

-That the region between your knees and hips is filled with space

-That the region between your hips is filled with space

-That your lower back is filled with space

-That the region between your navel and your backbone is filled with space

-That region between your shoulder blades is filled with space

-That the region between your breast bone and your back bone is filled with space

-That your neck is filled with space

-The space inside your lungs as you inhale and exhale

-The space inside your throat as you inhale and exhale

-The space inside your nose as you inhale and exhale

-That your jaw is filled with space

-That your cheeks and mouth are filled with space

-That the region around your eyes and behind your eyes is filled with space

-That your eyes are filled with space

-That the region between your temples is filled with space

-That your brain is filled with space

-That your whole head is simultaneously filled with space

-At the same time that your are imagining the space inside your whole body, is it possible for you to imagine the space around your body, the space between your fingers and toes, behind your neck and back, the space above your head and beneath your chair, and the space in front of you and to your sides

-That, as you continue to practice this Open Focus Exercise, your imagery of space will become more vivid and more pervasive


A Stress Management Approach

By Harvard Cardiologist Herbert Benson

The RELAXATION RESPONSE is a meditative technique that quiets the mind and leads to a deep general relaxation of the body. It is especially effective for persons who experience much confusion, worry and other forms of mind "chatter" when under stress. There are several things you should do to receive the maximum benefit from practicing the RELAXATION RESPONSE.

  1. Choose a good time and place to practice:
    1. You need a time when you are not sleepy and it is unlikely that you will be interrupted for at least 15 minutes:
    2. Use either a comfortable, upholstered chair or a recliner or a bed; it is important that you be able to become relaxed in the chair or bed;
    3. Select a place where there are few distracting lights or sounds to interrupt you. Keep your eyes closed throughout the practice.
  2. Try to adopt a quiet attitude of letting yourself become relaxed; do not force the relaxation; furthermore, do not worry about the exact timing or the length of practice; instead concentrate on how you feel. Let yourself relax.

The specific instructions for eliciting the "RELAXATION RESPONSE" are follows:

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Deeply relax all your muscles, beginning at your feet and progressing up to your face. Keep them relaxed.
  3. Breathe through your nose. Become aware of your breathing. As you breathe out, say the word "ONE", silently to yourself. For example the sequence should go, breathe in…out, "ONE", in…out, "ONE", etc. Breathe easily and naturally.
  4. Expect distracting thoughts. When these distracting thoughts occur gently bring yourself back to repeating the word "ONE".
  5. Continue for 10 to 20 minutes. You may open your eyes to check the time, but do not use an alarm clock. When you finish, sit quietly for several moments, at first with your eyes closed and later with your eyes open. Do not stand up for a few minutes.
  6. Do not worry whether you are successful in achieving a deep level of relaxation. Maintain a quiet attitude and permit relaxation to occur, at its own pace. When distracting thoughts enter your mind, try to ignore them by not dwelling upon them and return to repeating "ONE". With practice, the response should come with little effort. Practice the technique once or twice daily, but not within 2 hours after and meal since the digestive processes seem to interfere with the elicitation of the RELAXATION RESPONSE.