How To Do Three-Part Belly Breathing To Calm Anxiety

“Just breathe” is an oft-heard instruction given to people suffering from anxiety, but it doesn’t work very well, especially when the advice is given condescendingly. That’s not to say there isn’t some truth to it – slow, deep breaths can bring calmness – but this breathing needs to be done properly. Anxious people often take sharp, shallow breaths without thinking about what they’re doing. Learning the three-part belly breath will create habits that calm anxiety!

Three-part belly breathing is about returning the focus to breathing through a step-by-step process designed to counteract the quick breaths we take unconsciously in times of stress or anxiety. The “three parts” are not just the three steps, but also the three sections of your upper body through which you’ll breathe: the stomach, the rib cage, and the upper chest.

How To Do Three-Part Breathing

Start by finding an area where you can comfortably lie down on a yoga mat, either with your legs outstretched or with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the mat. Once you are comfortable, close your eyes and begin naturally inhaling and exhaling. Train all your focus on your breathing, and take all the time you need to push distractions and unwanted thoughts out of your mind.

In three-step belly breathing, you are slowly filling up more of your upper body to increase oxygen. You can feel the three sections fill up as you follow the following steps:

  1. Begin by inhaling and exhaling through the nose. On each inhale, fill the belly up with your breath, then expel all the air out of your belly through your nose. As you exhale, draw your stomach back towards your spine to make sure that the belly is empty of air. Repeat this five times.
  1. After you have become comfortable, fill your belly up with air, then draw in a little more breath. Let the air expand into the rib cage, then exhale, letting the air in your rib cage out first and then the belly, drawing it back towards the spine as in step 1. Once you have the hang of it, repeat this five times.
  1. On the next inhale, fill up your stomach and rib cage again, but draw in a little more air to fill the upper chest; the area around the heart should expand and rise. As you exhale, let the breath go down from the upper chest, then the rib cage, and finally from the belly, using the same slow releases found in steps 1 and 2. Take your time and breathe at your own pace, going through all three steps smoothly for another 10 breaths.

How Three-Part Breathing Can Calm Anxiety

Three-part breathing is the opposite of breathing when you are stressed. Anxious breathing is characterized by shallow, quick breaths, and the lack of oxygen getting into your system only exacerbates the feelings of stress, anxiety, or panic. Three-part breathing brings intention to your breathing, helping you calm down and providing the oxygen necessary for clear thinking.

Three-part breathing is also important to yoga because it brings awareness to the present and calms the mind. It’s like a very basic form of meditation, and awareness on the breath brings you into the moment.

What Are The Other Benefits To The Three-Part Breath? 

Apart from relieving anxiety, three-part breathing teaches people how to breathe completely and with intention. “Bad breathing” is like bad posture: it’s a habit we can find ourselves in without even thinking about it. Many people breathe very shallowly from just the top part of the chest. When combined with poor posture and lots of sitting, the whole torso, lungs and diaphragm won’t be getting a lot of oxygen, and this can cause tension and make anxiety worse.

Three-part belly breathing is ideal for stress relief, meditation, and as a precursor to your regular yoga routine. It might take some time for you to adjust to the steps, but practice makes perfect!