Relieve Stress with a Five-Finger Breath Exercise

This simple practice will help you relax and find some peace in your day.

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Relieve Stress Breath Exercise

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.

Does that sound appealing to anyone else as we approach the busy holiday season? I thought so.

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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