Breathe Your Way To Relaxation

by Robert H. Phillips, Ph.D.

In this article, let’s talk about how something as simple as breathing can help you to improve your relaxation skills.

Breathing is necessary for life. But ironically, as important as breathing is, it is usually taken for granted. Proper breathing is a good tool for controlling stress. Learning how to control your breathing can enhance your feelings of relaxation. Breathing exercises have been helpful in gaining control over depression, anxiety, muscle tension, and fatigue.

Here are a few different types of breathing techniques that may be helpful to you.

Try calming breathing.

Practice this technique when you are relatively calm.

  • Recline or lie down on a bed, breathing slowly and leisurely in a way in which you can feel yourself becoming relaxed.
  • When you inhale, breathe in gently and slowly. Breathe in a normal amount of air, filling the lower part of your lungs.
  • Hold your breath for just a fraction of a second. Then breathe out easily and normally. (Not every breath has to be a deep breath.)

Note: As you practice these calming breathing techniques, be sure that your breathing does not become too rapid. Breathing too deeply and rapidly can cause hyperventilation. Avoid this by breathing slowly and comfortably, even when you take deep breaths.

Practice deep abdominal breathing.

This method (also called diaphragmatic breathing) is a direct, conscious way of avoiding the shallow “upper chest” breathing that often occurs during extreme anxiety. Have you ever taken a deep, cleansing breath automatically when you were anxious or uncomfortable? It really helps! Do this consciously, whenever you’re feeling uncomfortable.

  • Stretch out in a comfortable position. Put your hand on abdomen.
  • Inhale slowly and deeply (some people like to breathe in through their noses, but this is not required). You should feel your abdomen expand as you inhale.
  • Exhale slowly, through your mouth. Feel your abdomen deflate as you exhale.
  • Keep repeating and feel yourself relaxing.

Using slow, deep breathing forces you to slow down. Once this reaction spreads throughout your body, you’ll feel an immediate, positive response.

Re-establish “normal” breathing.

Most people have one particular pattern of breathing that is used when they’re calm and in control. Think about your pattern.

When you experience stress reactions, your breathing changes. It becomes more shallow, rapid and uncomfortable. At times like these, force yourself to resume your normal breathing patterns. This will help you to regain control of how you feel.

Hold your breath.

If you feel like you’re losing your breath (or can’t catch your breath), then take a really deep breath and hold it for as long as you can. Two things will happen.

  • First, you’ll be reminded that you are in control.
  • Second, you’ll be avoiding the short, rapid breathing pattern that can lead to hyperventilation and increased anxiety.

By holding your breath, you’re focusing on your breathing. This can serve as a distraction.

Exhale slowly.

This is another technique that can help you to gain more control over your breathing.

  • Exhale slowly, letting your body relax as you do so.
  • Once you have completely exhaled, breathe in again, but now make sure that you inhale slowly.
  • Continue this pattern.

If you’re still experiencing anxiety, do some more breath-holding exercises to help you feel more in control.

Count your way to relaxation

Whenever you use any therapeutic deep, rhythmic breathing techniques, a good way to stay focused is to count every time you exhale.

Determine your beginning and ending number. This will give you an even greater feeling of control. For example, if you don’t have much time to relax, you may decide to count to ten. You’ll actually be taking ten comfortable breaths. If you have more time, you may want to count to 100 (or any other number that you choose) as you practice your breathing.

And now… relaxxxx!

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