Have you ever been super stressed and had someone tell you to just breathe? I know it’s annoying, right?
But hear me out – breathing can actually help way more than you might think.
Our breath is an incredibly powerful yet underused tool for healing, de-stressing, and regulating our emotions, especially when paired with other alternative health methods like cold water immersion and exercise.
In this article, we’ll explore 7 simple yet powerful somatic breathwork exercises somatic breathing exercises that can help you tap into your body’s wisdom, process stored stress, and start a grounding, healing journey.
By gently guiding your breath’s flow, pace, and depth, you can calm your nervous system, reduce anxiety, and increase overall wellness.
What Is Somatic Breathwork?
Somatic breathing is a therapeutic practice that uses conscious breathing techniques to release trauma and tension stored in the body and nervous system.
This mind-body approach deepens the connection between mind and body through specialized breathing exercises. The goal is to create a state of conscious awareness that promotes healing, strengthens, and releases stress from the parasympathetic nervous system.
In somatic breathwork therapy, there is an emphasis on tuning into physical sensations and feelings while practicing slow, controlled, and connected breathing.
As the author and Somatic Experiencing coach, Ilene Smith, states, ‘Your nervous system does not function through thoughts; it functions through feelings.’
That’s exactly why I’ll be sharing some of my favorite somatic breathing exercises to help you tap into your body’s inner wisdom and ‘feelings‘. These practices guide you inward to begin the healing process from the inside out.
7 Best Somatic Breathing Exercises to Release Stress
These exercises are specifically designed to help you activate your vagus nerve, get grounded, and stimulate your nervous system.
Let’s walk through these together!
1. Resonant Breathing Exercise
The Resonant Breathing exercise involves breathing at a pace of about 5-6 breaths per minute, it has been shown to reduce depressive symptoms and improve overall mood.
To practice this technique:
- Sit upright with your spine straight, either on the floor or in a chair. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest.
- Inhale slowly through your nose for 5 seconds. Feel your belly expand with the breath as you inhale.
- Pause briefly at the top of the inhale for 1-2 seconds.
- Exhale slowly through your nose for 5 seconds. Feel your belly deflate as you exhale.
- Use the hand on your stomach to control and deepen your inhales and exhales. Keep your breath smooth and steady.
- Focus your awareness on the rise and fall of your belly as you breathe.
- Aim to breathe from your diaphragm rather than your chest.
- Maintain this resonant breathing pace of 5-second inhales and 5-second breaths out for 2-5 minutes.
- Let go of any thoughts or distractions and relax into the rhythm of the breath.
2. Valsalva Maneuver
The Valsalva Maneuver involves forceful contraction of the pelvic floor muscles, to which the vagus nerve is connected.
- Standing or sitting upright with a straight posture.
- Take a deep full breath through your nose and fill up your lungs completely.
- Hold your breath and tightly contract your abdominal muscles, as if you are trying to exhale forcefully, but keep your mouth and nose closed so no air escapes.
- Continue holding your breath and contracting your abdominals for 5-10 seconds. Do not release the breath yet.
- After 5-10 seconds, release the contraction of your abdominal muscles and exhale slowly through your mouth.
- Inhale again deeply through your nose and repeat steps 3-5.
- Aim to repeat this breath holding and abdominal contraction 3-5 times per round.
- You can place your hands on your lower stomach to feel it contract and release.
- Perform 2-3 rounds of 3-5 repetitions.
Pro Tip: Always empty your lungs between rounds before inhaling again and be sure to focus on feeling the activation and stretch in your abdominals as you practice this technique.
3. Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise
The Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise teaches us how to engage the diaphragm fully to facilitate deep, healing breaths.
To practice this technique:
- Find a comfortable position. Place one hand on your chest and one on your upper belly.
- Inhale slowly through your nose, letting your belly push your hand outwards. Feel your lower ribs expand out to the sides.
- Exhale slowly through pursed lips, drawing your navel in towards your spine. Feel your rib cage relax downwards.
- Keep your chest still while your belly expands on each inhale. Breathe from deep within your core.
- Imagine filling up from the bottom of your lungs to the top on each inhale. Fully empty out on each exhale.
- Continue this deep, diaphragmatic breathing for 2-5 minutes, focusing on belly expansion.
4. Box Breathing Exercise
The Box Breathing Exercise utilizes equal amounts of inhalation, holds, and exhalation to promote deep relaxation.
To practice this technique:
- Sit upright. Visualize tracing a square.
- Inhale slowly through your nose for 4 counts, tracing the first side of the square.
- Hold your breath for 4 counts, tracing the second side.
- Exhale slowly for 4 counts, tracing the third side.
- Hold empty for 4 counts, tracing the final side.
- Repeat this sequence, breathing deeply and visualizing the square.
- Equal inhales, holds, exhales, and holds create a rhythmic, meditative breath cycle.
- Focus on making breaths smooth, deep, and continuous.
Practice box breathing for 3-5 minutes to induce tranquility. It’s excellent for coping with stress.
This technique shifts the nervous system into a rest-and-digest mode, lowering blood pressure and heart rate.
5. Sound Stimulation Breath Exercise
The Sound Stimulation Breath Exercise uses vocal tones to enhance awareness and deepen breaths.
- Find a comfortable seated position. Place one hand on your lower abdomen.
- As you inhale through your nose, hum a tone that naturally resonates.
- Feel the vibration and expansion in your core. Hum on the exhale as well.
- You can experiment with different humming sounds, pitches, and volumes.
- The exhalation should be longer and deeper than the inhale. Imagine the sound spreading relaxation throughout your body’s extremities.
- Continue toning on the inhale and exhale for 2-5 minutes. Focus on the sensations.
The sound anchors awareness to unlock mental clarity. Regular toning can help release muscular tension and energetic blockages. It taps into the healing power of resonance.
6. Breath Awareness Exercise
The Breath Awareness Exercise cultivates present-moment focus (mindfulness) through conscious attention to the breath.
- Find a comfortable seated or lying position. Close your eyes or soften your gaze.
- Bring complete awareness to the natural rhythm of your breathing. Feel the rise and fall.
- Notice each inhale and exhale without trying to control or change the breath. Simply observe.
- When your mind wanders, gently return attention to the breath.
- Imagine each inhale bringing revitalizing energy in. Visualize each exhale releasing tension.
- Continue breathing awareness for 2-5 minutes. Let go of thoughts and distractions.
It may be challenging to stay mindful and grounded as a beginner, but with practice, this will get easier and easier!
7. Somatic Nostril Breathing Exercise
The Somatic Nostril Breathing Exercise balances energy by alternating nostrils on each inhale and exhale.
- In a seated position, place your left hand on your knee.
- Close your right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale slowly through the left nostril.
- Close the left nostril with your ring finger, and release the right. Exhale through the right.
- Now inhale through the right nostril, close it off, open the left, and exhale through the left side.
- Continue alternating sides, breathing smoothly and deeply for 2-5 minutes.
- Focus on keeping your shoulders relaxed as you direct the breath through each nostril.
Regular practice can relieve anxiety, reduce stress, and improve respiratory function.
Benefits of Somatic Breathing
After guiding you through specific breathing techniques, it’s important to underscore why regularly engaging in somatic breathwork matters for your overall well-being.
Beyond the immediate experience of induced calm, somatic exercises offer both mental and physical benefits. From decreasing anxiety to improving cardiovascular health, the advantages of developing a daily somatic breathing practice are far-reaching.
Now that you are familiar with the “how”, let’s explore some of the key reasons “why” conscious breathing should become an integral part of your self-care regimen.
Benefits of Somatic Breathing on Mental Health
Somatic breathing has the power to positively impact your life in many different areas. But- it all starts with the brain.
Take a look at the benefits breathwork has on your mental wellbeing:
- Help treat trauma and PTSD
- Reduce anxiety and depression
- Increase mental resilience
- Improve mindfulness
In addition to these mental benefits, nurturing the mind can also play a significant role in preventing, reducing, or alleviating mentally-induced stress, pain, and illnesses.
Benefits of Somatic Breathing on Physical Health
It’s well-known that breathwork can positively impact our minds, but not many realize the ability it has to heal our bodies.
Here are a few of the physical benefits somatic release breathwork has to offer:
- Improved cardiovascular health and reduced blood pressure and cortisol
- Release physical tension
- Improve mental clarity
- Reduce blood sugar levels
- Improve digestion
- Improves sleep quality
Deep breathing is a free, easy way to calm your mind and heal your body. By taking just a few minutes a day to practice this habit, you can start reducing stress and improving your health, inside and out.
Releasing Stress and Trauma Through Somatic Breathwork Therapy
And there you have it – everything you need to start using breathwork to care for your own body and mind! We’ve gone through the breathing basics, seven awesome techniques to try, and the science backing it all up.
Now comes the best part…taking action!
Start small – set a daily reminder for just 3-5 minutes of mindful breathing. Feel the relaxation wash over you as you slow down your inhales and exhales.
With regular practice, you’ll likely sleep better, think clearer, and feel more at ease. Breathwork is a simple yet powerful way to find calm and reduce anxiety. It’s an easy, free tool you can use anytime, anywhere.
You’ve got this. Just a few conscious breaths away from enjoying the multitude of benefits!
Can I do somatic breathwork at home?
Yes, you can practice somatic breathwork at home. You can do it at home, but it is sometimes recommended to learn and practice somatic breathwork under the guidance of a qualified instructor who can provide proper instructions and support.
What to expect after somatic breathwork?
Common experiences include a sense of deep calm, release of emotions, heightened energy or sleepiness, mindfulness, tingling sensations, muscle contractions, altered states of consciousness, and improved sleep. But, each session is a unique experience based on the individual and intention behind the practice.
Can anyone do somatic breathwork?
Yes, anyone can do somatic breathwork. It is a practice that involves conscious breathing techniques and body awareness, which can be done by people of all ages and fitness levels. There are a lot of resources online, such as guided videos or audio recordings, that can help you practice somatic breathwork.