Yoga Breathing Exercises to Help Regulate the Nervous System

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Have you ever noticed your breath in a high-stress or anxiety-producing situation?

When we experience anxiety or stress our breath rate and tension increase.

For people who deal with anxiety, trauma, or chronic stress it is most likely the case that your breathing patterns are shallow and more rapid than people who have calmer nervous systems.

It’s also the case that people who experience more stress and anxiety have a harder time regulating their nervous system to create the optimal balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic responses.

When our nervous system is working correctly I picture it like a fine-tuned Ferrari. It’s powerful and can help us move and take action but it does it gracefully and also has excellent downshifting breakability when we need to calm down. 

The sympathetic nervous system response is our “fight or flight” response which gears us up to run, fight, or take action and the parasympathetic nervous system response is our “rest and digest” response which calms us into relaxation and allows us to digest our food and rest our body.

In this article, I’m going to go over some yoga breathing exercises that can help us regulate our nervous systems to help reduce stress and anxiety. 

How to Use These Breathing Exercises

The following breathing exercises can be used every day. Ideally, it’s best to set aside 5-10 minutes each day to work through a breathing protocol so that you can consistently train your nervous system over time to regulate itself with slower cycles of breathing.

The goal is to get this practice to become automatic where you can self-regulate your nervous system when experiencing higher than normal stress or anxiety in your life.

In order to make it automatic, small sessions each day are best.

For people who deal with anxiety (like myself), make sure to take this at your own pace when you feel ready as focused breathing can also trigger anxiety, ironically. 

Stress and Anxiety Relieving Breathing Exercises

4 x 4 Balance Breathing 

This is a stabilizing breath pattern that can be used any time to bring your nervous system in balance whether it’s up or down.


  • Inhale 1,2,3,4 (nose)
  • Exhale 1,2,3,4 (nose)
  • Do for a total of 10 rounds

4 x 8 Relaxation Breathing 

This is a very calming breathing pattern that should be used later in the day. It aids in falling asleep and helps the parasympathetic nervous system kick in.


  • Can be done lying down or sitting
  • Left hand on belly right hand on heart
  • Focus on expanding the belly or your left hand to emphasize diaphragmatic breathing
  • Inhale 1,2,3,4 (nose)
  • Exhale 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 (nose)
  • Total of 10 rounds

4 x 4 x 4 Triangle Breathing 

This breathing pattern is designed to make you sleepy and calm so it’s best done later in the day.


  • Inhale 1,2,3,4 pinch nose
  • Hold 1,2,3,4
  • Release and exhale 1,2,3,4
  • Total of 10 rounds

4 x 4 x 4 x 4 Box Breathing

This is a very strong parasympathetic breathing pattern that has a strong calming effect.


  • Inhale 1,2,3,4 pinch 
  • Hold 1,2,3,4
  • Release 1,2,3,4
  • Hold 1,2,3,4
  • Repeat total 10 rounds

Alternative Nostril 4 x 4

Make a hang loose sign in your right hand to use the thumb and ring finger to open and close the nostrils. This practice helps to balance the nervous system.


  • Close off right nostril and inhale through left nostril 1,2,3,4
  • Close left nostril and exhale through right nostril 1,2,3,4
  • Repeated for total of 10 rounds

Fifteen Second Hold Breath x 4

This breathing practice increases co2 in the system which has a vasodilating and bronchodilation effect on the body as well as a relaxing response. 

It’s important to take this pattern at your own pace because breath holds can also cause anxiety due to the feeling they provoke in the body.


  • Inhale 1,2,3,4
  • Pinch nose and hold for 15 seconds
  • Exhale 1,2,3,4
  • Repeat for 4 rounds

Thirty Second Hold Breath x 4

This breathing practice also increases co2 in the system. Similar to the 15-second hold it’s important to take this one at your own pace since this long breath-hold can trigger anxiety in people. If you can do this effectively it will have a calming effect. It’s normal to feel tingling.


  •  Inhale 1,2,3,4
  • Pinch nose and hold for 30 seconds
  • Exhale 1,2,3,4
  • Repeat for 4 rounds
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Josh is a writer and entrepreneur who runs a small digital content publishing business. His main interests are in topics related to developing personal and financial freedom. When not working he enjoys reading, yoga, surfing, being outdoors, meditating, exploring, and hanging with friends.