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Pursed-Lip Breathing in 30 Seconds
What is Pursed Lip Breathing?
Pursed-lip breathing, also known as candle breathing, is a technique that mimics blowing out a candle (hence the name) and slows down your breath to help you relax. It makes the perfect rescue exercise when you are feeling stressed to recenter yourself.
How to Pursed-Lip Breathe
- Inhale through your nose for a count of 2. Keep your mouth closed.
- Purse your lips.
- Exhale through your pursed lips for a count of 4.
The Details about Pursed Lip Breathing
History + Background
Pursed-lip breathing (often called candle breathing) isn’t some new trendy technique, it’s been around for a long time. All the way back in 1910, it was prescribed by physicians for patients with lung conditions known as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and other disorders that cause breathlessness. In 1997, pursed-lip breathing became part of the official lung rehabilitation program. Today, pursed-lip breathing has expanded beyond its initial recommendation for lung disorders.
We first learned about pursed-lip breathing in a restorative yoga class. The teacher (one of our favorites) regularly struggles with anxiety and shared with us how she uses candle breathing to slow her breathing and calm her anxiety. I (Matt) have personally applied this technique to my life and regularly slip into candle breathing whenever I start to feel stressed out.
Steps to Pursed-Lip Breathe (With Images)
- Inhale as you normally would through your nose.
- Make sure your mouth is closed.
- If counting helps you focus, breathe in for a count of 2.
- No need to make it a deep breath, just start with your normal breath.
- Purse (or pucker) your lips.
- Make a similar shape to when you use a straw or blow out a candle.
- Exhale out slowly through your pursed lips.
- For a count of 4, again if numbers help you.
- Imagine you are blowing on candle flame gentle enough that it flickers but doesn’t go out.
- Jump back up to step 1 and repeat until your breathing slows.
Helpful Tips for Pursed-Lip Breathing
- Smell the rose, blow out the candle. Use this gentle reminder to guide your breathing.
- Don’t force the air out.
- Something feel off? Try putting a pen between your lips and to blow it out while holding tight with your lips. This will help you find the correct mouth shape.
- You should feel your stomach slowly get larger as you inhale and shrink as you exhale. Place your hand on your stomach as a gentle reminder.
- Variation option: Inhale and hold it as long as you can, exhale as slowly as you can. Repeat until you can do all steps for 20 seconds.
- Extend your inhale and exhale, but make sure you exhale is always longer than your inhale. Double your inhale length is a good rule of thumb for your exhale.
- Use one of our free phone wallpapers as a gentle reminder to incorporate pursed-lip breathing into your daily habits. See the previews of a few below, and checkout the full collection here for more color options.
Getting Started with Breathing Techniques
We recommend give yourself a few practice runs with your new breathing exercises before trying to apply them to your anxiety. That way in the stressful moments you won’t have to think about the details and it will simply come naturally. If you think there is a better way to incorporate these breathing techniques into your life, start with that. Use our tips only as guide if you need it, always listen to your body and your needs.
- Choose 3 days over the next week where you have at least 5 minutes to practice your breathing. Try to pick a time that you feel the most relaxed, possibly right as you wake up or before you go to sleep. Set a reminder somewhere you wont’ forget.
- Begin slowly. Don’t focus on getting everything right. Use these moments as a time to be grateful and thank yourself for kind to your body. Experiment with different variations and tricks until you find what works for you, there is no right answer.
- Set yourself a gentle reminder of the techniques you’re learning. Put it somewhere that you’ll see when you’re stressed out. This could be a sticky note on your planner or a wallpaper on your phone. When you start to feel those negative emotions, use that reminder as a guide to start your breathing exercise in that moment.
Who are Breathing Techniques Recommended For?
Breathing techniques are like magical tools that everyone can benefit from – seriously! They're not just for certain people; they're for all of us navigating the rollercoaster of life. Anyone dealing with stress (and let's be real, who isn't?) can tap into breathing techniques to find their calm in times of stress. And personally, we know how amazing these techniques can be in beating back anxiety when it starts to creep up on you. Really there are so many benefits to breathing exercises that they are totally worth a try, even if you don’t end up sticking with it.
What are the Benefits of Breathing Exercisesl?
- Reduced Stress and Anxiety: Deep breathing triggers the relaxation response, calming the body and reducing stress hormone levels and therefore relieving anxiety.
- Improved Lung Function: Practicing breathing exercises can enhance lung capacity and efficiency by engaging the diaphragm (the muscle below your lungs that helps pull in air then push it out) and optimizing oxygen exchange.
- Lowered Blood Pressure: Deep breathing can help lower blood pressure by promoting relaxation and reducing the strain on the heart.
- Enhanced Immune System: Deep, controlled breathing supports the lymphatic system (your body’s natural defense system made up of white blood cells), aiding in toxin elimination and potentially boosting the immune system.
Mental and Emotional Benefits:
- Increased Relaxation: Controlled breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system (this the system that helps you relax versus the “fight or flight” of the sympathetic nervous system), leading to a sense of calmness and relaxation.
- Improved Focus and Clarity: Certain breathing techniques, such as mindfulness-based practices, can enhance mental clarity and focus by directing attention to the present moment.
- Better Emotional Regulation: Regular practice of breathing exercises may help in managing emotions by promoting a sense of balance and reducing reactivity to stressors.
- Support for Sleep Quality: Some breathing techniques, like deep breathing or guided relaxation, can aid in improving sleep quality by inducing relaxation and reducing insomnia symptoms.
- Stress Management: Regular practice of breathing exercises is an effective tool for managing day-to-day stress and preventing it from escalating.
- Mind-Body Connection: Deep breathing fosters a stronger mind-body connection, promoting overall harmony between mental and physical health.
- Adaptability to Situations: Learning and practicing breathing exercises can equip individuals with coping mechanisms to deal with challenging situations or moments of heightened stress.
- Enhanced Self-awareness: Engaging in mindful breathing techniques can heighten self-awareness, helping individuals recognize physical and emotional states more clearly.
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end and unlocked your new breathing technique. Pursed-lip breathing is now in your arsenal of options for when you feel stressed out. Remember it’s not about the exact method, it’s about finding what works for you. So take what you can learn from this article, and forget the rest. Follow along with the guide and check out the tips if something feels off. Be kind to yourself and we are always here for you. Until next time.
References (We’re Not Making This Stuff Up)
- Pursed Lip Breathing | Cleveland Clinic
- This is a similar article on pursed-lip breathing. Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center.
- The effects of positioning and pursed-lip breathing exercise on dyspnea and anxiety status in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Research article observing how pursed-lip breathing affects anxiety and breathlessness in patients with COPD.
- Smell the Rose, Blow out the Candle: Mindful Breathing Practice K-5 | Mandala Collections - Texts
- An instructive guide for teaching mindful breathing to young students. This guide is part of The University of Flourishing, an online portal filled with guides and lessons to improve your wellbeing.
- Breathing exercises for anxiety with video - Priory
- A guide to 9 breathing exercises to keep anxiety symptoms under control. Priory is the leading independent provider of mental healthcare and adult social care in the UK.
- 3 Deep Breathing Exercises to Calm Anxiety I Psych Central
- A guide to 3 breathing exercises to calm anxiety. Psych Central is a mental health information and news website.
- Brief structured respiration practices enhance mood and reduce physiological arousal: Cell Reports Medicine
- Research article on the benefits of consistent breathing exercises.
- Effect of breathwork on stress and mental health: A meta-analysis of randomised-controlled trials | Scientific Reports
- Research article on the effects of breathing exercises on stress and mental health.