Cyclic Sighing Breathing Technique For Stress / Anxiety
- Cyclic Sighing is a simple breathwork technique
- It helps with stress and anxiety
- Some evidence suggests it is more powerful than mindfulness
- It is done by breathing in deeply, then breathing in a little more, then breathing out in a slow and controlled fashion
- It is possible that actively controlling the breath could be more beneficial than simply oberving it (as is done in meditation)
What Is Cyclic Sighing?
Cyclic sighing is a breathing technique that you can use to reduce anxiety and to reduce stress.
You might wonder how a simple breathing techniques can hace such a profound effect on your mind.
Well, recently, Stanford University released research that revealed lots about why breathing techniques help us so much when it comes to alleviating the symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Essentially, if you think about what happens when you become very stressed, or when you become very anxious, one of the very first things that happens is that you start to breathe a lot more quickly. In some instances, like if you’re having a panic attack, you might even start to hyperventilate. And so, there seems to be a direct relationship between our breath–how deep our breath is and how rapidly we breathe–and our state of mind. The quicker we breathe, and the more shallowly we breathe, the more stressed and the more anxious we tend to feel.
Now, if we flip that on its head, we realize that the more deeply we breathe and the slower we breathe, the more we feel relaxed. And that is the basis of the Cyclic Sighing exercise (otherwise called physiological sighing).
Benefits of Cyclic Sighing
- Reduces stress
- Reduces anxiety
- Very easy
- Can be done anytime, anywhere
- Arguably more powerful than mindfulness
Cyclic Sighing is a very easy technique to do and research shows that it is very powerful for reducing stress and for reducing anxiety.
Actually Stanford University research shows that physiological sighing is arguably even more powerful than mindfulness meditation. Now do bear in mind that mindfulness meditation is only one of many different types of meditation, and so we cannot say that Cyclic Sighing is more powerful than meditation in general, simply that for stress and anxiety, there is some evidence to suggest that cyclic sighing might be more powerful than mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness meditation, as you probably know, is simply observing the breath moving through the body. And when we do mindfulness meditation, we do not control the breath. Indeed, that’s one of the primary ways in which mindfulness meditation is different to to breathwork. In mindfulness meditation, we do not control the breath at all, we simply observe it. Contrastingly, breathwork is entirely about controlling the breath.
In my experience, both breathwork and mindful breathing help with anxiety. So if, like me, you’ll do anything to stop stress and anxiety, then you might as well use both mindful breathing and breathwork.
How To Do Cyclic Sighing
- So to begin with, we’re simply going to sit with good posture, making sure the spine is straight, perhaps rolling the shoulders back a little bit just to relax. And then we’re going to just lower the chin a little bit to elongate the neck, which will help to lengthen the spine. Of course, good body language is important to a good state of mind. And so by sitting with good posture, we already begin to improve our mood.
- You can choose to do cyclic sighing with your eyes closed or with your eyes open.
- Now all we shall do is take a deep breath in through the nose.
- Now when you get to the end of your inhalation, you just want to inhale just a little bit more through the nose. And that ensures that we we are taking a really deep breath. So we’re taking a deep breath to begin with and then just a little bit extra breath and the inhale is through the nose.
- Take a slight pause.
- And now we want to just consciously control the exhale so that the breath comes out slowly and gradually.
- And now let us do that one more time. We breathe in through the nose. When we fill the end of that inhalation, we just take a little bit more of the breath in through the nose. And then exhale out through the mouth gradually and slowly. And we want to make sure that the exhale is longer than the inhale.
- And that’s all it is. So again, it’s breathing in through the nose, taking a really deep breath deep into the lungs. And then breathing in a little bit more through the nose. And then breathing out gradually through the mouth.
When you do this practice, you’re going to want to take about 10 deep breaths in that way, and what you’re going to notice is that you feel a bit calmer, a bit more inwardly still, and a bit more peaceful.
And so as you can tell, cyclic breathing is a very quick exercise.
So how do you want to use cyclic signing or physiological signing? How should you use it?
Well, I personally recommend that you do it for just a few minutes once or twice a day. It really doesn’t need to be practiced for that long. It’s sort of not as as deep a technique as most meditations. I would say it’s a very simple and easy technique. Just practice it for one or two minutes per day.
Monitor your breath throughout the day, so if you start to breathe shallowly, or if you start to breathe more rapidly, that’s a sign that you are becoming more stressed and perhaps you’re becoming more anxious. As soon as you notice that your breath is becoming shallower and more rapid, just take a few deep cyclic breaths. As you do this, you’re going to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system and balance brain chemicals such as noradrenaline, serotonin, and so on. And all in all, you’re going to notice that within just a couple of minutes of using that technique, it is going to make you feel much more relaxed and much calmer.
I don’t recommend that you replace meditation with this. Certainly meditation is deeper and meditation has significantly more benefits than breathwork. However, breathwork can be a valuable tool, especifically against stress and against anxiety. And so, I recommend that you add this to your practice, and certainly if you ever feel stressed or you ever feel anxious, just take a few deep breaths.
It is amazing how quickly changing the breath, the quality of the breadth, the speed of the breath… it’s amazing how quickly changing those two things can have a profound effect on the mind.
And so that’s it for today. Just a very quick episode. But I do think that this technique is very powerful. It’s very helpful. It’s also something that, even if you’re busy, if you’re at work or you know you’re socializing, or if you’re too busy to formally meditate, you can still just take a few deep conscious breaths in that way, and so in that way it’s more accessible than meditation.
Paul Harrison is a passionate meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison