Deadlines. Jobs. Relationships. Expectations. All are common stressors during college. Did you know that you have a powerful tool to combat stress right under your nose? This tool travels with you wherever you go and doesn’t cost any money—you just need to remember to use it. What is this magical stress tool? Your breath.
Deep breaths for deep relaxation
Conscious breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing, involves deeply inhaling through the nose, feeling the abdomen expand, and then releasing the breath slowly through the mouth, ideally through pursed lips. Research shows that conscious, controlled breathing can improve mental well-being and is a particularly effective tool for college students. One small study of university students found a significant drop in heart rate and salivary cortisol (aka the “fight-or-flight” hormone) after 10 weeks of deep breathing practice, along with improved self-reported mood and stress levels. There are many variations of deep breathing exercises, and they can all be powerful tools to help decrease stress.
Nine magic breaths meditation
Setting aside time to practice deep breathing in a calm moment can reduce the stress that has accumulated in your body. Regular practice can also make conscious breathing easier to access when you find yourself in a stressful moment. Try the nine magic breaths practice below, inspired by meditation teacher and psychologist Tara Brach, which pairs deep breathing with a release of difficult thoughts, body tensions, and distressing emotions.
To begin, find a quiet space to practice. Sitting in a chair is recommended, although you can stand or lie down if that’s more comfortable. Follow this guided meditation as often as desired:
Hello. This is Laura. And this is the nine magic breaths practice. This short practice is designed to help us let go of tension in the mind, tension in the body, and tension in the heart so that we can arrive in this present moment with greater peace and greater ease.
So, let’s take a pause from our usual activity and find a comfortable position to practice. You can sit upright in a chair or on the floor where you can sit in a relaxed position– reclining or laying down, or even stand up if that is most comfortable for you.
Whenever you are ready, I invite you to gently close the eyes so you can tune inward and just begin to relax into the seat below. Feel the gentle pull of gravity on your body. Notice where your body connects with the surfaces below you, noticing your feet and your sit bones and your spine. And just settling into a really stable base here.
And for this practice we will be taking nine intentional deep breaths. I will guide you through these breaths in sets of three. And when we do this, try to inhale fully through the nose. Try to fill up the lungs and fill up the chest. And then as you exhale, try to exhale slowly though the mouth. Allow it to be a smooth exhale so that you can really feel a letting go of the breath as you imagine letting go of thoughts, tension in the body, and difficult emotions.
So, let’s begin. Breath in deeply through the nose. Fill the lungs with air. And as you exhale, imagine that you are letting go of your thoughts. You can even picture your thoughts as floating clouds in the sky. And with each exhale they float by and disappear.
And so, once again, breath in deeply through the nose. And breathing out slowly through the mouth as you imagine your thoughts as clouds floating away. Floating away.
And one last time here, inhaling deeply, fully filling the lungs. And then exhaling, releasing all thoughts. Releasing all thoughts, letting go. Letting go.
And now continuing with our second set of breaths. With this next set, as you exhale, begin to let go of physical tension in the body.
So, begin now with a deep inhale. Breath in through the nose as you fully fill the lungs. And breath out through the mouth, letting go of any tightness in the body, softening the muscles of the body, sensing a sinking into the surface below.
And again, inhaling. Fill the lungs, expand the chest. And with the outbreath, let go of any tension in the upper body. Sense a dissolving of tension in the face, in the neck, in the shoulders. Imagine that ice is melting into water as the tightness dissolves.
And one more deep breath in here. And on the exhale, releasing the tension in the arms, softening the hands, and softening the belly. Letting go. Letting go.
And now the third and final set of breaths. When we exhale, we will be letting go of difficult emotions. So, inhaling deeply now, fill your lungs with air. And taking a smooth, slow exhale as you release any difficult emotions you may be experiencing, any sadness or worry or loneliness. Just letting it all go for now.
And once again, inhaling, fully filling the lungs with air, and releasing these burdens of your heart. Letting go. Letting be.
And one last time here, inhaling deeply, fully. And letting go of any emotional pain, any sorrows. Just releasing. And now relaxing your breath. Let it fall into its own rhythm. Let your body breath you.
And simply relax now.
Settling into the space of greater peace and greater ease.
And at the sound of the bells, you can begin to open your eyes and return to your day with perhaps a greater sense of wellbeing. Thank you for your practice.
[ Bell Rings ]
Cleveland Clinic. (2018, September 14). Diaphragmatic breathing. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/9445-diaphragmatic-breathing
Perciavalle, V., Blandini, M., Fecarotta, P., Buscemi, A., et al. (2017, March). The role of deep breathing on stress. Neurological Sciences, 38(3), 451–458. doi: 10.1007/s10072-016-2790-8
Peterson, L. A. (2017, March 23). Decrease stress by using your breath. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/decrease-stress-by-using-your-breath/art-20267197
Rygiel, K. (2019). Deep diaphragmatic breathing: A “portable intervention” for stress reduction among university students. In H. Çakmur (Ed.), Effects of stress on human health. IntechOpen. http://dx.doi.org/10.5772/intechopen.86731