Relaxation and breathing exercises

Relaxation and breathing exercises can help you to feel more in control and manage difficult emotions. 

Some exercises need more practice than others but finding out what works for you can help maintain health and wellbeing during or after cancer treatment.

  • Relaxation exercises
  • Breathing exercises

  • How can relaxation help?

    Relaxation can help reduce anxiety, pain, stress and muscle tension.

    It has also been shown to help lower blood pressure, improve sleep, digestion and focus and to boost the immune system.

    Relaxation techniques

    Guided imagery (Visualisation)

    Guided imagery, also known as visualisation, is when you use your imagination to create images that help you to relax or relieve symptoms like pain. 

    Progressive muscle relaxation 

    When you're stressed or anxious you automatically tense your muscles.

    Progressive muscle relaxation helps you to be aware of the muscle tension by tensing specific muscles and then releasing them. This helps you be more in control of the muscle response to stress and helps your body feel more relaxed. 

    Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) 

    Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese term for ‘taking in the forest atmosphere during a leisurely walk’. It is also called forest bathing.

    Research has shown a number of benefits of forest bathing, including reducing the stress hormone cortisol and blood pressure, boosting the immune system, improving mental clarity, and helping with anxiety, depression and insomnia. 

    Yoga, tai chi, and qigong

    Yoga, tai chi and qigong are all forms of gentle exercise that combine breathing with movement and have been shown to help with relaxation.

    51ɫAPP your nearest Maggie's to see what yoga, tai chi or qigong classes they offer


    Mindfulness is the art of being aware of, and acknowledging, your thoughts and feelings.

    Whilst mindfulness meditation may help you to feel more relaxed that isn't its main purpose.  Mindfulness encourages you to focus on and acknowledge what you are experiencing in the present moment, rather than concerns about the past or the future and is usually combined with breathing exercises.

    Other forms of relaxation

    Relaxation can take many forms and what suits you may be different to others and your energy levels may vary.

    Popular forms of relaxation include music, walking, running, reading – whatever gives you the space to be able to relax.

    Relaxation exercises to try

    Watch and listen to some relaxation and breathing exercises from our Cancer Support Specialists in your own time.


    How do breathing exercises help?

    Being aware of your breathing and learning to change breathing patterns can help change how you feel and how you react to situations.

    When you are stressed, your breathing gets faster and becomes shallower as you take on more oxygen. This makes your heart beat faster and causes anxiety levels to rise. 

    Breathing exercises slow your breathing down which sends a message to your nervous system that everything is ok. This reduces the stress response and calms both mind and body. 

    Breathing exercises can be adapted to suit the situation that's causing you stress.

    They can even be a useful tool if you feel suddenly overwhelmed, as they don’t need any equipment, and there are versions you can do without other people noticing.

    Breathing exercises to try

    Our Cancer Support Specialists have put together some breathing exercises for you to try in your own time.

    Relaxation and breathing apps to download

    Downloading an app to your mobile phone can help you use relaxation and breathing techniques wherever you are. Here are a few suggestions:

    • The  app offers guided meditations and mindfulness techniques. There is a free basic course and additional subscription related options
    •  is an app with a range of meditation exercises. Many are free and can be customised for your current state of mind although, some items are subscription related
    •  is an app with meditation, yoga, conversations and music developed to help people with cancer relax.

    What now?

    We offer a range of relaxation exercises and courses at Maggie's find your nearest centre to see what’s on or just come in.

    Try some of the audio exercises on this page – try different ones to see which works best for you.

    The libraries in our centres have a range of books and CD's. Browse through them to find the techniques to suit you.

    Last review: Nov 2021 | Next review: Nov 2022

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