How to harness breathwork to counter workplace frustrations

By Carolyn Cowan, a London-based psychotherapist and breathwork teacher

Working for an SME can be thrilling. You feel like you’re at the start of something big and your time is being well spent. But with that excitement often comes frustrations in the form of difficult colleagues, overbearing investors, shoestring budgets, chaotic atmospheres, and unsustainable workloads. Add all this together and you’re destined to burn out. Not to worry. These easy-to-master breathwork techniques are perfect for those days when you’re ready to walk out.

When you worry about an upcoming deadline, meeting or review, your autonomic stress response starts to kick in, often increasing your heart rate and giving you that anxious feeling. This is something we want to avoid and incorporating deep breathing into your day-to-day life can do just that.

To really feel the benefits of breathwork, it is important to stretch before you begin. Find a quiet spot and inhale slowly, filling your whole belly. As you do so, lift your arms wide to the side of your body and bring your hands together above your head. Raise your chin and open your mouth wide, stretching out your tongue.

As you exhale, gently fold forward over your hips. Slowly inhale as you reach your hands down to one foot. Once there, slowly exhale. Don’t worry if you can’t reach the floor, just reach down as far as is comfortable without pain. Inhale as you move back to the centre, before reaching for the other foot as you exhale. Repeat for two minutes. If you can, widen your feet a little as your body relaxes.

Gently walk your hands back up your legs as you straighten your spine. Roll your shoulders and take a minute to come to. You’re now ready to try a breathing technique:

A breath to manage the mind when you are nervous

This simple breath is a great way to release the mind from negative thoughts. It is ideal to practice if you are feeling nervous about a meeting or preparing for a difficult conversation with your boss or investor. Get comfortable with how the practice flows before you need to do it and by the time you are ready, it will be like an old friend.

Sit comfortably, anywhere that works for you – at your desk, on the bus, on a mat, on a chair – with your eyes closed and your spine straight, chin tipped slightly down.

Begin to inhale through pursed, tight lips – not a whistle but a steady stream of cool air straight down into the belly. Suspend the breath for a moment at the top of the inhale.

Exhale through the nose, and feel the warm, soft blanket of air wrap itself around you. As you settle into the breath, maybe three or four inhales in, begin to make the exhaled breath as silent as possible, and notice that when the breath is silent everything slows down. This is what you want: the slow, gentle, hissing inhale and the warm, silent exhale.

Continue for 3–11 minutes. Then inhale through the nose, exhale and be still, silent and gentle for 2–3 minutes.

The Pouty Breath to calm the mind

Standing up and presenting in front of people is well-known to be nerve-wracking. You may have been advised in the past to imagine people in their birthday suits but what you need is a tool to help you feel calm and collected. Try this exercise just before you need to do your talk, speech or presentation and you’ll feel your nerves slip away as your heart rate slows for the perfect performance.

This breath is a way of allowing your lips to utterly relax on the exhale through the mouth, with a slight tension in the smile muscles on either side of the lips.

It is a breath that can be done anywhere. Imagine letting go of negative thoughts and feelings as you breathe out.

Sit with your hands on your wide knees and elbows locked, back straight. Tilt the chin slightly down. Notice how this posture lifts the chest and opens the heart centre.

The ask is that the breath is silent on the inhale and there is a gentle wind sound on the exhale.

Slowly inhale through the nose and suspend the breath for one second at the top of the inhale, then exhale through pouting lips, slowly and gently.

Aim for 5–10 seconds on both the inhale and the exhale, sitting for 2 minutes for the breath and two minutes in the stillness.

Now you’ve got these handy breathing exercises in your toolbox, you’re well-equipped to face those trickier days. With less time spent on worrying, you’ll have more time to ace your workload, impress your investors and gain confidence.

Carolyn Cowan is a London-based psychotherapist and breathwork teacher. Find out more about Carolyn and her work at