5 mindfulness exercises to calm your anxiety: Progressive Breathing

by | Nov 7, 2016 | Mindfulness/Meditation | 0 comments

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Progressive breathing ...

is a mindfulness activity that I have found particularly helpful to people that need a stronger sense of control in their lives and a way to ease and calm anxiety. It incorporates the aspects of the breath awareness practice and builds on it to create a sense of control, patience, and calmness to the practice.

NOTE: There are many variations of the practice and you are free to tweak it however works for you. I have used multiple variations with my clients based on their preferences, what they are comfortable with, and their level of anxiety. You are also free to find a pattern that works for you and instead of doing progressive breathing, keeping to a breathing pattern that speaks to you and calms you at your own pace.


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Progressive breathing is helpful because when we are often trying to catch our breath, we may take a deep, long in-breath and then shoot it out as fast as possible on the out-breath. This is actually counter-productive. We want to have a slow in-breath and an equal to or even slower out-breath.

Actually try it right now.

Take a big deep breath, maybe even take three to four seconds to get all that air in there. Hold it for a moment, and then let all the air out in a “huff.” Note how that felt.

Now, lets try again.

Take a big deep breath, the same length as your previous breath, hold it for a moment, and then slowly let it out, taking the same amount of time that you took on your in-breath. Now how did that feel?

I’m hoping it felt better because it sure does for me.

In this progressive breathing exercise, you will be keeping one pattern the entire time:

breathe in, hold, breathe out, breathe in, hold, breathe out, breathe in, hold, breathe out.

What progressively changes is the amount of seconds it takes for you to complete an action.

For example, we will start with one second and move to two.

Take a breath in for one second (you may want to count in your head if you are on your own, or you can listen to my recording below if you would like to be guided), hold for one second, and then release your breath for one second.  Let’s do this a couple times so you can feel comfortable noticing your breath and begin preparing to manipulate it. Now, breathe in for two seconds, hold for two seconds, and release your breath for two seconds.

You can continue for as long as you would like, but I typically go to ten and then if I feel like it is necessary to continue, I will progressively move back down.  I’m sure that breathing in for ten seconds, holding your breath for ten seconds, and then slowing breathing out for ten seconds sounds a little crazy right now as you read this, but if you focus on the progressive slow increment movements towards 10, it is completely attainable.

And feels really good!

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