"If breathing is not normalized, no other movement pattern can be". Karel Lewit, M.D.
Breathing exercises may not sound too exciting, but they are a way of getting a great amount of muscular relaxation with a minimal amount of effort, and they're free.
There are many different philosophies and techniques when it comes to breathing exercises. We recommend the following technique because it has been researched several times with well designed studies, and each time it was found to be as effective as muscle relaxers.
Inhale through your nose for six seconds.
Exhale through your mouth for six seconds.
Repeat this for five minutes, three times a day.
There is no holding of the breath.
If six seconds is too difficult, just do what you can, but keep the length of the inhalation and
exhalation the same.
Diaphragmatic breathing is also very effective, and it can be combined with the aforementioned exercise or used on its own. Diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the parasympathetic portion of your autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system influences many of our "unconscious" behaviors, such as our heart rate, breathing rate, digestion, stress level, and more, and the parasympathetic portion of this system will cause these processes to relax or slow down (thus earning the moniker the "rest and digest system").
To perform diaphragmatic breathing, first visualize your diaphragm, which is a large dome shaped muscle that is oriented horizontally and separates your chest cavity from your abdominal cavity. When the diaphragm contracts, it flattens and depresses into your abdominal cavity (thus causing your belly to rise) and when it relaxes it returns to it's dome shape. You can consciously influence this muscle and increase it's activity by having it contract down into your abdominal activity, at which time you'll also find your belly rising or expanding. More astute or skilled diaphragmatic breathers may also notice their low back muscles relaxing and even their pelvic floor relaxing during this contraction, and eventually it will indirectly cause many other muscles to relax, perhaps none moreso than the scalene muscles in your neck.
Here is a video to help you see and understand diaphragmatic breathing:
In general we think it's best if you do either or both of these exercises without an app - as it makes it easier to shift your awareness to your body - but some people find they're more likely to adhere to a routine if they use one. If you choose to use an app, we recommend "Paced Breathing" (Android only) and "Breathe2Relax" (Android and Apple). Both allow for adjustment of parameters to match those recommended above.
A word to the wise: While some people do these exercises and get immediate relief, more often people need to stick to a program for several days or weeks before noticing improvement. At the same time, people that have faith and stick with a breathing exercise program tend to love it and get consistent and lasting results.
Lastly, please don't do these exercises while driving, because it can cause you to get into an accident. We've had several people do their breathing exercises while driving (against our advice) and drift into the next lane before they realized what was happening. Clearly this isn't safe for you or those around you.