Deep breathing is something we often take for granted. Unless we're running a marathon or dealing with a nasty head cold, mostly our inhalations and exhalations go unnoticed.

Are there benefits of deep breathing?

As it turns out, there are some very good reasons to become more mindful of our breathing process. In large part, these reasons have to do with the many benefits of deep breathing.

Deep Breathing Reduces Stress

The bottom line is that slow, relaxed, and mindful deep breathing can reduce physical and mental stress. And a reduction in unnecessary stress and tension supports the human body-mind in all kinds of ways. In short, it's a really good thing!

So, how exactly does deep breathing benefit us? Let's take a look first at the physical benefits of deep breathing.

The Physical Benefits of Deep Breathing

Deep breathing promotes a lowering of blood pressure and a slowing of the heartbeat—both of which are associated with the relaxation response of the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the most healing and nourishing way for the body to function, under normal circumstances.

The Many Benefits of Deep Breathing

What Is the Stress Response?

The stress response, on the other hand, is associated with the sympathetic nervous system—whose activation puts us into "fight, flight or freeze" mode. When we perceive (real or imagined) danger, our body prepares to go to the battle; run as fast as we can in the opposite direction; or freeze into terrified stillness as we go into hiding. Rapid, shallow breathing often accompanies this response.

And if the danger is real—e.g. coming face-to-face with a hungry mountain lion—this is a completely legitimate and necessary response. But oftentimes our body gets triggered into a fight-or-flight stress response by situations that do not require it or gets stuck in it after the danger has passed. And the tension associated with this can become a chronic condition. The buildup of stress can lead to anxiety and depression.

What Is the Relaxation Response?

The good news is that we can use deep breathing techniques to invoke the relaxation response (associated with the parasympathetic system)—and reset our system to a more kind and appropriate relaxation response.

Deep abdominal breathing can slow a racing heart, and lower or stabilize blood pressure. It also encourages full oxygen exchange—i.e. the nourishing intake of incoming oxygen and release of outgoing carbon dioxide. These are among the most powerful physical benefits of deep breathing, and the relaxation response that it supports.

But these physical benefits are only the tip of the iceberg. What's equally impressive are the mental-emotional benefits associated with deep breathing.

The Psychological Benefits of Deep Breathing

Physical tensions often go hand-in-hand with psychological stress. A feeling of anger may manifest as a tightly clenched jaw. A knotted stomach can be an expression of feeling "worried sick." Extreme sadness may be experienced as tightness in the chest.

So, releasing physical tension very often brings in its wake the release of psychological tensions. When we use deep breathing to elicit the relaxation response, any stress-related mental-emotional tensions quite naturally dissolve. As chronic anger, sadness and worries are released, our psychological health improves.

How to Practice Mindful Deep Breathing

Mindful deep breathing is a common feature of practices such as yoga, meditation, qigong, tai-chi, and progressive muscle relaxation—all of which evoke the parasympathetic relaxation response.

The first step is to become mindfully aware of your breathing. Close your eyes and bring your attention to the sound and feeling of your breathing.

  • Notice if breathing is slow or rapid.
  • Notice if it is deep or shallow.
  • Notice if it is smooth or choppy.

Just notice these things, with an attitude of spacious curiosity, without judgment or mental commentary. This is becoming mindfully aware of your breathing.

The next step is to gently deepen the breath so that you can feel it in your belly. This is called abdominal breathing, which engages the diaphragm—the dome-shaped muscles at the bottom of the ribcage.

If you'd like, you can lie down on a couch, bed, or carpeted floor. Lie on your back with your knees hinged and feet flat on the floor, bed, or couch. Place the palms of your hands gently on your lower belly. As you inhale, allow your belly to rise into your hands. As you exhale, feel your belly releasing back toward your spine. This is deep abdominal breathing—which can help you to relax.

Get Into the Habit of Breathing Deeply

To cultivate the habit of relaxed deep breathing, create a daily routine. Set aside 15-20 minutes once or twice a day, to practice mindful breathing. First thing in the morning, and then right before bed, is one great option.

Little by little, you'll begin to notice and appreciate a deepening of the relaxation response—and all the healing benefits that can come with this.


Questions or comments? Please feel free to contact me. I'd be honored to support you in the cultivation of deep breathing practice, as one way of building confidence and strength and enhancing your overall well-being.