When stressed or anxious, a well-meaning person may say to us, take some deep breaths. We oblige and take a few deep breaths but don’t feel any different. We may even feel tighter and less relaxed. Why is that?
Usually, it is because we breathe through our upper chest and not in our diaphragm. Though someone may tell us to breathe deep, it is rare for someone to tell us how to take a deep breath. So, here are some simple instructions.
- Find a comfortable spot. You can do this sitting or lying down. If sitting, ensure your feet are firmly planted on the ground and hip space apart (approximately your two fists.) If you choose to lay down, support your legs, back, and head with pillows. You want to make sure that you are in a position where your body can relax.
- When we breathe in, we want to do it through our noses. We know this isn’t always possible, but if you can, breathe in through your nose since it will cause less tension in your neck and jaw. You may also want to use this technique with your eyes closed to prevent distractions.
- When we breathe in, we want our diaphragm to expand. The diaphragm is the space under your rib cage. Your belly will also expand. We are often used to breathing in the top half of our lungs, which is the same place where most of us hold stress. We do not want our shoulders to raise or our faces to tighten. Sometimes, it is easier to breathe using your diaphragm and belly by lightly placing your hands on that area. This way, you can feel it expand and know how to direct your breath. Be gentle with yourself as you do this; if you are not adapted, that is ok. It does take practice since you are retraining the way you usually breathe.
- When you breathe in, do so slowly. At first, you may want to start by counting to three or four in your head. The more you practice, it may be 5 or 6 counts before your diaphragm is full. Remember, you should relax your neck, shoulders, and chest.
- Once your diaphragm expands, you may want to hold your breath for a second or two. Again, as you practice, you may increase this step for a few more seconds. Doing so allows the oxygen to nourish your cells.
- Now it is time for the release. Slightly open your mouth and push the air out with your diaphragm. Your diaphragm and belly will collapse as the air escapes. However many counts you took in the breath is the ideal number of counts for releasing the air.
- Now, this is the good part; you get to repeat the steps above. We recommend that you take a minimum of three breaths. But, if you still feel tension, you may want to take more than that.
Once you are comfortable taking deep breaths, you can also use this technique for meditating or doing mantras and positive affirmations. As you breathe in, you could say to yourself, “I breathe in peace and tranquility.” As you breathe out, you can speak to yourself, “I am relaxed and open to (and then fill in the blank. I often use the word love, but it could be God, the Universe, knowledge, compassion, harmony, or whatever thing you feel you need in your life at the moment.)
The more you do this deep breathing exercise, the more relaxed you feel. It is a good “go-to” technique when going through troubled times. It will not heal everything but is a starting point to clear your head and release tension. Remember, the more you practice deep breathing, the easier it will be to do and the more benefits you will notice in your life.
About the author: Theresa Touhey owns Nature Reflections, an online jewelry store specializing in handcrafted Angel Callers and Harmony Ball Jewelry. She is also an artist, a writer, a grandmother, a caregiver to a rescued Havanese dog, and a nature lover. She has practiced various forms of meditation and yoga for over 30 years.