No one needs to convince us why we need to breathe. Sometimes, however, we need convincing as to why we should do it consciously, with awareness. Study after study shows us that intentional, abdominal breathing has direct affects on the body – this is good news. After all, it is free and can be done anywhere, at any time. Stress doesn’t have to get the best of us! By just a few minutes spent each day on the practices I’ll be describing below, one can invoke healing in the immune and nervous systems. This stuff calms the mind as well. Don’t we all need that, especially during this time?
When I demonstrate these techniques to my patients, I first begin by putting one hand on my chest and the other hand on my abdomen. This sort of check-in tells me whether I’m breathing into my chest (shallow breathing) or whether I am taking a fuller breath in so that my belly expands (this is what we want). If my breathing is in my chest, I can consciously imagine my next inhalation moving deeper down into my body. I do this – as many breaths as it takes – until abdominal breathing is comfortable. Try it for yourself now. See what I mean?
From there, I love to move on to the 4:8 breathing technique. This is done by inhaling for 4 seconds, pausing for a second, then exhaling for 8 seconds. Simple, right? I like to do this for about 5 rounds or so. At that point I am really starting to notice the effects. The 4:8 breathing technique is so wonderfully calming.
Another way to encourage this kind of slow, rhythmic breathing is to use visualization. This was taught to me by one of my best yoga nidra teachers, Kamini Desai, PhD. With each exhalation, image that you are blowing the air out through a straw. So that’s inhaling through the nose, pausing for a second, then exhaling with softly pursed lips as if blowing through a straw. Really see that breath being pushed out through a skinny tube to slow everything down.
Another technique that involves counting, but in a much different way, is to count each inhalation and exhalation. Work downward, from 10 down to one. Some people recommend counting only the inhalations or the exhalations, while others recommend counting both. So, it would look like mentally/silently saying to yourself ‘10 I am inhaling…10 I am exhaling…9 I am inhaling…9 I am exhaling…8 I am inhaling,…’ and so on. When I was training in hypnotherapy, I was reminded that counting down (not up) was important to encourage greater levels of relaxation.
We all know that stress equals disease onset. In our overly-stressed society, conscious breathing has become a necessity. Not only do our bodies benefit, so do our minds. After all, the mind and body are linked – they make up a whole. You could even say that they are ONE. While these techniques are for anytime and anywhere, I find that they are perfect upon waking up each morning as well as at bedtime. That’s because an AM breathing practice sets the tone for the day, while the PM practice supports the melting away of stress and the day’s residue. It even adds to a solid sleep hygiene routine. With consistent practice, I expect that you will see a difference. I know I did.
If you’d like one-on-one coaching for stress management or support with your health goals, contact me. I can assist you in breathwork and in building a mediation practice. I offer guided imagery, hypnotherapy, and yoga nidra (a sleep-based meditation), in addition to counseling services.
Here’s to your health,
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