How to Relax with This Simple Exercise

Using just your five fingers, you don't even have to get up from your chair to claim a bit of peace for your day.

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woman relaxing during the holidays

Perhaps the single most helpful fact I’ve learned about stress management is this: if you exhale for longer than you inhale, your nervous system automatically shifts into what’s called a “parasympathetic state.” In this state, your heart rate slows, your muscles relax, your whole body feels calmer and more peaceful.

In these uncertain and stressful times, this can be especially good news.

I taught my 6-year-old son to appreciate this magical facet of his body, using what I call “five-finger breathing.” Here’s how it works:

Make a fist.

As you inhale through your nose, slowly uncurl your thumb and index fingers.

As you exhale through your mouth, slowly open your middle, ring, and pinky fingers.


As you can see, your inhale lasts for two counts, while your exhale lasts for three. Having the visual cue of your unfolding fingers helps keep this rhythm smooth and consistent, which is the key to bringing your body into that parasympathetic state.

The practice does something else, too. At the beginning of your breath, your fist is symbolic of the tension you are holding—literally—in your body and mind. You might even want to visualize a specific situation that is causing you stress, imagining it trapped inside your closed hand.

As your hand opens, finger by finger, notice what it feels like to give that stress some space to escape, to evaporate into the ether. When you have finished your long exhale, pause for a moment and notice your softly open hand. Focus on how still it is, ready to receive whatever your day might bring next.

Regardless of whether your hand closes again around a new stressor, rest in the knowledge that you have the power to gently unwrap your fingers to the possibility of peace, today and every day.

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