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6 Breath Practices for a Stressful Day at Work

Try these pranayama techniques at your desk to feel centered and calm when your job gets hectic.

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Work is often a huge source of stress in our lives. Whether you’re trying to meet unrealistic deadlines, manage a high workload, or handle a conflict with a boss or co-worker, it can be overwhelming and anxiety-provoking.

When things start to feel out of control at work, one of the simplest things you can do to calm your nervous system and improve your state of mind is to take a few moments to shift your focus to your breath. Better yet, take five for pranayama, or breathwork, right at your desk. Pranayama, which means controlling your breath and its energies, can be a powerful reset for your body and mind.

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Research suggests that a regular pranayama practice can improve brain health and attention, which means you’ll be better able to tackle the tasks and challenges ahead.

Typically, your breath will become more shallow and rapid when you’re feeling stressed. So, it’s best to use the pranayama techniques that slow down your breath in order to quiet your mind, improve concentration, and ease anxiety, stress, or agitation.

See also Yoga for Stress and Burnout

To help you manage the daily grind, here are six breathing practices to try at the office when you’re having a rough day. 

Mindful Breathing

Mindful breathing. Breath practices.

One of the best (and inconspicuous) ways to start bringing a breath practice into your work day is to bring your awareness to your natural breathing process.

Sit in a comfortable posture in a chair with a straight back. Relax your whole body and don’t force your breath. Just focus on the breathing process. Feel the rhythmic flow of your breath into your nose, and the warm flow out of your nose. Next, bring your awareness to the flow of air through your throat. Feel the expansion of your lungs as you take in air, and its contraction as you breathe out. Feel the upward rise of your chest and abdomen as you inhale, and the downward fall as you exhale. Finally, bring your attention to the whole breathing process from your nostrils to your abdomen. Observe your physical body as one unit. Practice this mindful breathing technique throughout your day and for as long as you feel comfortable.

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Abdominal Breathing

Abdominal breathing. Breath practices.

Yogic abdominal breathing can help you to gain control of the breath, correct poor breathing habits, and increase oxygen intake. It’s helpful when anxiety is high, and if practiced regularly, it can deepen your natural breathing patterns.

Sit in a comfortable posture. Inhale slowly and deeply, allowing your abdomen to engage fully. Try to breathe so slowly that little to no sound can be heard. Feel the air reaching to the bottom of your lungs. When your abdomen can expand no longer, start to expand our chest outward and upward. When the ribs have fully expanded, inhale a little more until expansion is felt in the upper portion of your lungs and up to the base of your neck. Keep the breath rhythmic and steady. Repeat for 5 rounds or as long as you feel comfortable.

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Chandra Bhedana Pranayama (Moon Breath)

Chandra Bhedana Pranayama. Breath practices.

Chandra Bhedana Pranayama is for channeling and cooling energies of the body and mind. This pranayama involves breathing from the left to the right nostril, inhaling in ida (moon energy) and exhaling out pingala (sun energy). Chandra Bhedana can calm your mind, improve concentration, and relieve anxiety or stress.

Sit comfortably with your head and spine upright. Relax your body and close your eyes. Position your right hand into Nasagra Mudra, with your index and middle finger between your eyebrows and your elbow lifted. Close your right nostril with your right thumb and inhale through your left nostril slowly, deeply, and without strain. Once inhalation stops comfortably, close your left nostril with your right ring finger and release the pressure of your thumb on your right nostril. Exhale from your right nostril slowly and steadily until your lungs are empty. Both the inhalation and exhalation should be equal. This is one round of Chandra Bhedana. Start with 5 rounds and slowly work your way up to 15 rounds when you have the time.

This pranayama is not recommended if you have low blood pressure or feel any sort of discomfort. 

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Sitali Pranayama (Cooling Breath)

Sitali Pranayama. Breath practices.

Sitali Pranayama is a cooling and soothing breath. Its practice can cool the body, induce muscular relaxation, and reduce mental and emotional stress. For this pranayama, inhalation occurs through a rolled tongue, which creates a cooling sensation on the tongue and on the roof of the mouth.

Due to genetics, about one-third of the population cannot roll their tongue into a tube. If you can’t roll your tongue, practice Sitkari Pranayama (next) as it gives similar benefits.

While seated comfortably with your back straight, close your eyes and relax your whole body. Without strain, extend your tongue as far as you can outside your mouth. Roll the edges of your tongue up so that it forms a tube. Inhale a long, smooth, and controlled breath through your rolled tongue. It should produce a sucking sound. At the end of your inhalation, bring your tongue in, close your mouth, and exhale through your nose. Start with 9 rounds of this breath. As you become more comfortable with this pranayama, gradually increase the number of rounds to 15 when you have the time.

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Sitkari Pranayama (Hissing Teeth Breath)

Sitkari Pranayama. Breath practices.

Sitkari Pranayama is very similar to Sitali. Both create cooling and soothing effects in the body and mind. In Sitkari Pranayama inhalation occurs through your teeth which creates a hissing sound. If your teeth feel sensitive, try Sitali Pranayama instead.

In a comfortable seated position, close your eyes and relax your whole body. With an open mouth, bring your teeth together, as if you are clenching your teeth but without the tension. Keep your lip separate while exposing your teeth. With your tongue lying flat, inhale slowly and deeply through your teeth. At the end of your inhalation, close your mouth. Exhale slowly through your nose in a controlled manner. Start with 9 rounds of this breath. As you become more comfortable with this pranayama, gradually increase the number of rounds to 15 when you have the time. 

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Bhramari Pranayama (Bee Breath)

Bhramari Pranayama. Breath practices.

Bhramari Pranayama involves using your breath to make a sound like a bumble bee. The vibration created from this pranayama can stabilize your mind, relieve frustration, and alleviate anxiety or stress. It is also a great practice to prepare your mind for meditation.

Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Place your index fingers on the cartilage covering your ear canal. Slowly inhale through your nose until your lungs are full. As you exhale, make a steady and smooth humming sound like a bumble bee. Repeat for ten breaths.

If you feel any dizziness, stop Bhramari and continue normal breathing. 

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These pranayama exercises are not just limited to work-related stress, but also are applicable to other areas where stress might come up in your life. So, practice as little or as often as you like. The time you take to focus on your breath also gives you the space to gain clarity and return to a more neutral state of well-being