HEALTHY LIVING
04/19/2013 08:12 am ET

HuffPost Stress-Less Challenge, Day 5: Coherent Breathing

Welcome to Day 5 of HuffPost Healthy Living's 14-Day Stress-Less Challenge! In honor of National Stress Awareness Month, our goal is to use the next two weeks to focus on becoming less stressed and more calm. Today's expert is Patricia L. Gerbarg, M.D., assistant professor in clinical psychiatry at New York Medical College, who will be focusing on how breathing can reduce stress. Read through today's challenge, then tell us -- either in the comments, on Facebook or @HealthyLiving -- how it's going. Just joining us? Catch up on what you've missed here and sign up to receive newsletters for the rest of the challenge here.

Stress occurs when we need to adapt to changes, which is an inescapable part of our daily lives, according to Patricia L. Gerbarg, M.D., assistant professor in Clinical Psychiatry at New York Medical College.

"When we respond well, stress is a positive experience that leads to growth, learning, skill development and strength. In contrast, excess, prolonged stress that overwhelms us can lead to emotional or physical injury," says Gerbarg. "The challenge is to prevent the ups and downs of life from overwhelming our stress response capacities. In addition, when excess stress causes symptoms, we need to restore balance as quickly as possible to prevent stress-related illness."

One of the easiest ways to do that? Just breathe. Gerbarg, who, along with Richard P. Brown, M.D., associate professor in Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, authored the book The Healing Power of Breath, is intimately familiar with what's called Coherent Breathing, a breathing method that promotes relaxation and balance.

Today, make Coherent Breathing work for you with this simple exercise to relax:
  1. Lie down with eyes closed.
  2. With the mouth closed, breathe in gently and smoothly through the nose for six seconds. "It is not necessary to overfill your lungs," says Gerbarg. "The breathing should be as gentle as possible."
  3. Breathe out just as gently and smoothly; there's no need to "expel air forcefully" she says, also for six seconds. Try an iPhone app, CD or MP3 to help you keep the pace. (You can find examples at coherence.com.)
  4. Continue this pattern for five or 10 minutes. "Then just lie there with your eyes closed and notice how you feel."

Try this exercise every day, or multiple times a day during periods of stress, Gerbarg recommends.

How do you feel after a few minutes of Coherent Breathing? Do you notice a change in how you respond to stressors? Send your answers to HealthyLiving@huffingtonpost.com, Tweet us @HealthyLiving or post to our Facebook wall.

Stress-Less Fact Of The Day: As long as you're in private (or in the right company), don't feel like you need to be polite about your stress. A UK study found that letting out a loud scream can cut work-related stress by about a quarter. Throwing in a few curse words can help, too. Go wild!

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