Breathing is a necessity of life that most people take for granted. With each breath of air, you obtain oxygen and release the waste product carbon dioxide. Poor breathing habits diminish the flow of these gasses making it harder for you to deal with stressful situations. As you learn to be aware of your breathing and practice slowing and normalizing your breaths, your mind will quiet and your body will relax.
Abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing is the natural breathing of newborn babies and sleeping adults. Inhaled air is drawn deep into the lungs and exhaled as the diaphragm contracts and expands. Breathing is even and nonconstricting. The respiratory system is able to do its job of producing energy from oxygen and removing waste products.
By increasing your awareness of your own breathing patterns and shifting to more abdominal breathing, you can reduce the muscle tension and anxiety present with stress-related symptoms and thoughts. Diaphragmatic breathing is the easiest way of eliciting the relaxation response.
While breathing exercises can be learned in a matter of minutes and some benefits experienced immediately, the profound effects of the exercise may not be fully appreciated until months of persistent practice. Try the following exercise and consider using them on a consistent basis.
Please note: If while practicing either of the following exercises you fell light-headed, dizzy or anxious, you maybe breathing too deeply or quickly. Just stop practicing for several minutes and breath normally until the symptoms pass.
- Lie down on your back on a rug on the floor (or bed if necessary). Your legs should be straight and slightly apart, your toes pointed comfortably outward, your spine straight, your arms at your sides but not touching your body, your palms up and your eyes closed.
- Put your left hand in the center of your chest and your right hand on your abdomen, right at your waistline.
- Without trying to change your breathing, simply notice how you are breathing. Which hand rises the most as you inhale? If your abdomen expands, then you are breathing from your abdomen or diaphragm. If your belly doesn't move or moves less than your chest, then you are breathing from your chest.
- If you are chest breathing, concentrate on breathing in and filling your lungs starting at the bottom and ending with the top. Let your chest follow your abdomen. Try this a few times and be sure your abdomen is rising more than your chest before continuing.
- Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Your mouth and jaw are relaxed.
- Take long, slow, deep breaths. Focus on the sound and feeling of breathing as you become more and more relaxed.
- Continue deep breathing for about five or ten minutes at a time, once or twice a day for a couple of weeks. Then, if you like, extend this period to twenty minutes.
- When you have learned to relax yourself using deep breathing, practice it anytime you feel yourself becoming tense. You can breath this way whether you are standing, sitting or lying down.
- Get in a comfortable position, lying as above or sitting in a chair.
- Breathe in deeply into your abdomen and say to yourself "Breathe in relaxation." Let yourself pause before you exhale.
- Breathe out from your abdomen and say to yourself "Breathe out tension." Pause before you inhale.
- Use each inhalation to as a moment to become aware of any tension in your body.
- Use each exhalation as an opportunity to let go of tension.
- You may find it useful to use your imagination to picture or feel the relaxation entering and the tension leaving your body.
- Continue for 5 or 10 minutes until you feel relaxed.