Living with arthritis can cause a lot of pain, but breathing techniques promoting relaxation and focus may help to manage the stress of pain.

Elevated view of woman meditating

It can sometimes feel hard to find ease and rest if you live with arthritis. Painful, inflamed joints not only have a physical impact on the body, but can sometimes have a mental impact too.

If you’re looking for a way to reduce stress and anxiety brought on by arthritis, introducing a breathing practice into your day may be a good place to start. While a breathing practice won’t necessarily remove the pain associated with arthritis, it can offer you a space to relax and feel a little more at ease.

Here we share two simple breathing techniques — one for relaxation and the other for focus. Which one you choose to try will depend on if you’re seeking rest or more focus.

To get started, you’ll need to be seated on the floor, on a chair, or lying down — whatever works for you.

Full yogic breath for relaxation

Full yogic breath breaks up the breath into three parts, before bringing them all back together. It encourages rest and relaxation.

First, focus on breathing into your stomach so that it puffs out. Fill it right up so there is no more space for any air. Exhale and repeat this process at least five times.

Then, focus on sending your breath to the sides of your ribcage. This action may seem a little strange at first — breathing sideways as opposed to directly out the front — but this action helps to activate the diaphragm, an important muscle that plays a role in calming your nervous system.

Next, breathe directly into the upper chest. You might notice your breath feels shorter in this part, and that’s ok. This space is not as big as your stomach or your rib cage.

Finally, you’ll complete the full yogic breath which combines all three elements. Start by filling the stomach, then the rib cage then the upper chest. Exhale and release slowly, working in reverse.

Full yogic breath encourages deep, slow breaths that activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This triggers a relaxation response from the body so you can feel calm, rested and at ease. Once you’ve mastered the art of the full breath, you can go straight into the full cycle without having to break it down. You can even start to try this kind of breath when you find yourself in a stressful situation, whether you’re sitting in traffic or you've had a painful joint flare up.

Equal breathing for focus

The equal breathing technique is extremely useful for focusing a busy mind.

Start by inhaling slowly and deeply for 4 counts, then exhaling for 4 counts. Focus your mind on each number as you count it in your head.

If you have a longer breath, you can increase the number of counts to 6 or 8, or if you are having difficulty reaching 4, the count can be reduced to 3 or 2. Just be sure that your breaths are full, slow and considered. Once you become used to the equal breathing technique, you can even try pausing at the top of your inhale and the bottom of your exhale, you may find a real sense of stillness doing this.

And there you have it. Two different breathing techniques for relaxation and focus.