Breathing is, fortunately, second nature. We draw breath hundreds of times a day and around the clock without a second thought. However, when we get flustered, breath becomes short and shallow – and stress has nowhere to go but up! In that flustered state, it’s easy to forget to be in the moment and, as they say, “just breathe.”
On the other hand, if you pause for a moment and shift focus to your breath – aka breathing mindfully – almost immediately, wonderful mind/body effects start to happen: the body’s relaxation response kicks in, heart rate slows, escalating emotions can level off and things like blood pressure and heart rate start to ease back down into a healthier range. Breathing mindfully is like an instant chill pill, minus the pill!
For many people though, it’s not about when to breathe mindfully – most of us can feel stress rise – but how to be able to do it on-demand that’s the challenge. Here are a few breathing techniques to help train yourself to breathe mindfully wherever and whenever you need to. It’s one of the best and fastest ways to combat the stresses of too-busy days, so here’s where to start:
Tune Into Your Breathing Frequency
Mindful breathing helps relieve tension, restore energy and reduce stress. It reminds us to get out of our heads and tune in to our bodies as we breathe slowly and consciously to calm and soothe. If you’re new to the idea of mindful breathing, start by becoming aware of your breathing rhythms at different points throughout the day. You’ll start to notice the breath’s varying pace depending on what’s happening at a particular moment. For example, if you’re upset, anxious, or you’re exercising, you’ll notice more rapid breathing. When you’re relaxed or falling off to sleep, you’ll notice breathing slows.
Breathe in the Awareness – And Exhale It Too
Once you’ve spent some time paying attention to your daily breathing rhythms, try practicing this simple form of awareness:
- Breathe shallowly and rapidly – and see how you feel.
- Then breathe deeply and slowly – and feel the difference.
- Breathe in and out, (preferably) through the nose, with the exhale being longer than the inhale.
- As breaths come and go, they’ll teach you to let go, and go with the flow, reminding you that nothing remains constant, everything changes. Remember it’s not possible to control everything and to be perfect – so remember to “let it go” as you breathe with awareness.
Stress-reduction That’s As Easy As, Well, Breathing!
Mindful breathing is simple, effective and can be done just about anywhere, at any time. Better yet, mindful breathing techniques activate the parasympathetic nervous system, making them great instant stress relievers. Here are three go-to breathing techniques to swiftly soothe your body and mind:
The Speedy Soother: Abdominal Breathing Basic
- Find a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed.
- Get into a relaxed position whether lying down or sitting up.
- Put your hands on your abdomen, close your mouth gently, touch your tongue to your upper palate, and breathe through your nose. If your nose is blocked for any particular reason, it is fine to breathe through your mouth.
- Inhale deeply and slowly into your abdomen (rather than your chest), being aware of your diaphragm moving downward and your abdomen expanding. Your hands on your abdomen will feel the expansion like a balloon filling.
- At the end of the inhalation, don’t hold the breath; exhale slowly, so that your abdomen falls automatically as you exhale.
- Try to get all the breath out of your lungs on the expiration. The expiration should normally be about twice as long as the inhalation when you get relaxed.
- Keep repeating this, keeping your focus on your hands rising on the abdomen with inhalation and falling as you exhale.
The Tension Terminator: Abdominal Breathing Advanced
- Find a comfortable position.
- Do 10 abdominal breaths.
- Then imagine with your next inhalation that you are breathing into a tense area such as a tight neck, a strained lower back, your head, your buttocks, or wherever you may feel pain or tension.
- With the exhalation, let the tension go out of your nose along with the air.
- Keep repeating this until the pain or tension starts to ease.
The Workday Wonder: 4-7-8 Breathing
- Place the tip of your tongue so that it’s touching the place where the back of your top teeth meet the roof of your mouth.
- Exhale completely, making a whooshing or sighing sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for 4 counts, hold for 7 and exhale for 8 counts.
For more on the wonderful things mindful breathing supports health and well-being, check out The 5 Healing Benefits of Breath.