Breathe your way to better health


27 May 2020  |   4 min read

Breathing is not only fundamentally important to life, but also functions as a natural self- healing mechanism. Recent research on breathing and the brain has shown that the longer the breath, the longer the lifespan1. Breathing exercises have a soothing effect on our emotional state, which in turn has a positive impact on our health.

The COVID-19 pandemic, safe-distancing and circuit breaker measures have created the ideal opportunity to regulate our emotional states through breathing. Regular practice brings about increased health and better emotional regulation. Some of these evidence- based health benefits include:

Better blood pressure regulation

Deep controlled breaths better regulate blood pressure through the heart rate, and is a natural self-healing mechanism for cardiovascular health. With practice, it lessens stress on blood vessels and lowers the risk of stroke and cerebral aneurysm.

Improved memory

Research has also suggested that our breathing rhythm generates electrical activity in the brain that influences how well we remember. The next time you have difficulty remembering something, control your breathing and it might just come to mind.

Reduced anxiety

Controlled slow breathing can relieve anxiety and prevent panic attacks. Emotional responses are stimulated by quick shallow breathing. When you find yourself breathing too quickly in pressurising situations, apply a controlled breathing exercise to calm yourself down.

Here are three breathing exercises that will take less than 10 minutes:

Regular practice brings about increased health and better emotional regulation.

Belly breathing

As this is the most basic of the breathing exercises, it is the one you should master first. It’s very simple, and simply requires a few steps:

  • Sit down comfortably, or lay down on a yoga mat – depending on personal preference.
  • Place one hand on your stomach, just below your ribcage. Place the other hand on the centre of your chest.
  • Breathe in deeply through your nostrils and let your hand be pushed out by your stomach. Your chest should remain stationary.
  • Breathe out through your lips, pursing them as if you were about to whistle. Using your hand, gently apply pressure on your stomach, helping to press out the breath.

Slowly repeat between three to 10 times.

“4-7-8” Breathing technique

This breathing exercise can be an extension to the belly breathing exercise or simply practised on its own.

  • Get into the belly breathing exercise position, with one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
  • Inhale slowly but deeply. Take 4 seconds to breathe in, feeling your stomach move in the process.
  • Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
  • Exhale for 8 seconds, as silently as you can manage. Once you reach a count of 8, you should have completely emptied your lungs of air.

Repeat as many times as you need, making sure to stick to the 4-7-8 pattern.

Breath counting

Also a form of meditation, this starts with sitting in a comfortable position with the spine straight and head inclined slightly forward. Gently close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Then let the breath come naturally without trying to influence it. Your breathing should ideally be quiet and slow, but depth and rhythm may vary.

  • To begin the exercise, count “1” as you exhale.
  • The next time you exhale, count “2,” and so on up to “5.”
  • Then begin a new cycle, counting “1” on the next exhalation.

Never count beyond “5” and count only when you exhale. You will know your attention has wandered when you find yourself counting up to “8,” “12,” or even “19.”

Try to do this for 10 minutes.

Besides having something to do between conference calls and replying work emails, controlled breathing is also a good way to relax, reducing tension and stress.

Breathe slow and be calm.

The contributor is an Executive Director at Clarity Singapore.


  1. Zulfiqar U, Jurivich DA, Gao W, et al. Relation of high heart rate variability to healthy longevity. Am J Cardiol 2010; 105: 1181–1185.