Breathing for the sake of relaxing is actually pretty difficult – at least doing it the right way is, anyhow. I like to think of myself as some sort of self-care enthusiast who has recently added breathing exercises into her daily self-care routine. As I am learning about breathing and the right way to breathe, I noticed that there were some basic skills that I had not been doing correctly. So, with that being said, here are some basic skills of deep breathing that will help you become more relaxed and to regain focus on the task at hand.
Tip: I just wanted to say that doing breathing exercises can be done anywhere at anytime. You don’t need to have a set time during the day to do them, although you can if want! I typically do them to regain focus on whatever it is that I am doing if my mind starts to get overwhelmed or if I just get distracted and when I feel stressed or anxious.
So, let’s begin…
(these skills are in no particular order)
BREATHE FROM YOUR STOMACH
Honestly, this was the hardest thing for me to learn when I started doing breathing exercises. Ever since music class in grade school when I was always taught to breathe in a way that expanded your chest, I thought that this was, in fact, deep breathing. Believe it or not, breathing to reduce anxiety or to help you relax is completely different.
Try this: Really quickly, take a deep breath in and exhale.
Now, ask yourself this: “Did I breathe into my chest or my stomach?”
When I first asked myself this, it was actually pretty difficult for me to tell. One technique that I have learned that is used to help you begin noticing how you breathe is to place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your abdomen area. When you are doing breathing exercises, you want to make sure that the hand on your stomach is expanding as well as the one on your chest. Often times, those of us struggling with anxiety tend to breathe in short and quick motions, which only adds to the anxiety – breathing in with your abdomen will help stabilize your breathing more effectively.
FOCUS ON YOUR OUT BREATH
Alright I’m gunna get a little nerdy here so bare with me…
You know the parasympathetic nervous system? Let’s just say the PNS to make it easier. If the answer to that question was “no,” then continue reading this paragraph. If it was “yes,” then feel free to skip ahead (but not too far!). I’ll spare you the boring details, but to make a long explanation short, the PNS is the system in our bodies responsible for slowing down our heart rate and relaxing our muscles, things like that. Interestingly enough, exhaling (our your “out” breath as I refer to it) activates the PNS within our bodies.
It is important to focus on your out breath while doing breathing exercises if you want to slow down your heart rate and become relaxed. It can be kinda weird and maybe even a little boring to be completely focused on just your breathing, so usually what I do is picture the air that I am breathing in and out flowing into different parts of my body and leaving those parts of my body. Here is an example of what you could say to yourself to help you visualize your out breath since this is what we want to be focusing on:
“Picture the air in your lungs gently and slowly traveling up out of your lungs. Feel your lungs getting smaller as the air travels up and out of your body leaving you feeling calm and relaxed.”
This way it won’t be as easy to let your mind wander off while you are trying to focus on your out breath.
FIND YOUR RHYTHM
This technique kind of goes hand-in-hand with what we just talked about. It is best practice to stick with some sort of rhythm when you focus on your breathing. This helps regulate your breathing, which helps your body to become relaxed more quickly and for your breathing to remain structured.
Try this: Use the rhythm of waves in the ocean. As you breathe in, picture the wave gradually flowing back into the ocean. As you exhale, picture the wave calmly crashing onto the shore.
Now, combine this skill with the one before it. While imagining the rhythm of the waves, try to really focus on your out breath – really lengthen the time spent on breathing out.
GROUND YOUR FEET
When you do your breathing exercises, you are going to want to be comfortable. Ideally, your feet should be on the ground, bottom scooted up to the back of your chair, hands in your lap, and back straight. Personally, I am not comfortable sitting in that position… So, take this “checklist” with a grain of salt and tweak it to make it suitable for your own comfort. For me, I try to stick to doing most of these things since it is recommended for getting the best out of your breathing, but like I said, sitting up straight just ain’t my thing.
The main take-away of this section is making sure that you are getting loosely comfortable. By loosely comfortable, I mean to make sure you are as loose as you can be with the least tension possible.
The wrong way: Sitting with your legs crossed.
The right way: Sitting with your legs relaxed and uncrossed.
Not to say that there is necessarily a wrong way or a right way, but you want to set yourself up for success – being as loosely comfortable as possible!
NOTICE BODILY SENSATIONS
This skill might be considered more than a basic skill of learning how to breathe in a way that relaxes and calms you, but important nonetheless.
WARNING: Your mind will wander when you are trying to focus on your breathing. No doubt about it.
Why? It’s probably because you are thinking about the other 101 things you have to do besides focusing on your breathing. Don’t worry, this is completely normal! You are used to always being on the go and so is your mind. When this begins to happen, just notice it (don’t dwell on it) and begin focusing on your breathing again.
Let’s take things one step further.
After you finish inhaling and exhaling a few times (let’s just say a cycle of 4 breaths in and 4 breaths out), sit and notice how your body is feeling. Ask yourself questions like:
- Is there any tension in my body?
- Where do I feel the tension?
- What am I feeling emotionally? Content? Anxious? Relaxed?
If you do notice tension in your body, really focus on where that tension is being held. Once you notice it, continue with another cycle of your breathing. Noticing where you hold tension in your body will help you get more in touch with your body and will allow that tension to be released – deepening your ability to feel fully relaxed.
Thanks for reading! What are some other things that help you relax? Comment below 🙂