Can breathing exercises reduce stress and help you live longer?

Personally, I had always thought the idea of breathing exercises sounded a little kooky. How could they have any impact on my state of mind?

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Personally, I had always thought the idea of breathing exercises sounded a little kooky. How could they have any impact on my state of mind? But then I went to a fancy little resort in Mexico where I had a transformative breathing session, and I was suddenly sold. After a half hour of guided breathing, I was simultaneously calmer, clearer and more alert than I had felt in a very long time.

And along similar lines, a new app called MyCalmBeat has recently been introduced to help people slow their breathing and lower their stress levels. As reported by Natasha Baker over at Reuters — “New app aims to reduce stress with slow breathing” — the app uses a heart-rate monitor that attaches to the ear and detects a person’s optimal breathing rate (which is apparently unique to every individual). The idea is that slowing down breathing can induce relaxation and lower stress. Baker quotes DeVarney, one of the creators of the app: “People don’t realize the profound impact that slow breathing can have until they actually sit down and do it for 10 minutes and then they feel completely different.”

Stress, of course, is a killer. Even moderate stress can significantly increase your chances of dying early, and so many health professionals recommend having some kind of effective tool for relaxation. Meditation, for example, focuses on breathing and is a common way to address stress and anxiety; it has been linked to all kinds of mental and physical health benefits — from delaying the aging process and extending lives to improving moods and providing practitioners with an increased sense of purpose.

We’re coming up on a stressful time of year, of course. While there are invariably many things to look forward to when it comes to the holidays (time off work, opportunities to connect with family and friends, socially sanctioned over-eating), there are also many elements that can drive anyone bananas (the expense of gifts, the social obligations, the friendly questions about why you’re still not married/haven’t had kids/closed on a mortgage/found a hairstyle that doesn’t make your face look so round). You might find it helpful to close your eyes and focus on your breathing every now and then — even if it’s in the middle of passing the mashed potatoes to your Aunt Rhonda.