7 years ago · Leah Fogt · Comments Off on Why practice deep breathing?
In today’s fast-paced society full of stressors, pressures, and worries, many of us begin to experience anxiety, distress, physical complaints (like high blood pressure, headaches, etc.) in our efforts to just keep up with the rat race. In juggling our many responsibilities, do we ever really allow ourselves to breathe?
For some it seems a little cliché to say, “just take a deep breath,” but there’s a reason why deep breathing is a skill many mental health clinicians encourage their clients to learn and practice.
The term diaphragmatic breathing (or the more playful “belly breathing”) refers to deep breathing utilizing the lower lungs through engaging the diaphragm – the membrane which moves below our lungs causing us to inhale and exhale. This kind of breathing allows for full oxygen exchange, and it can also slow the heart rate and stabilize blood pressure. Here’s a good article from Harvard Health Publications that explains more. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mental_Health_Letter/2009/May/Take-a-deep-breath
There’s more! Practicing deep breathing impacts the mind as well. Simply by becoming aware of our breath, choosing to deepen our breath, and maybe even counting or imaging with the breath, we can slow our minds down as well, making belly breathing a great way to respond to an oncoming panic attack.
Do you know how to practice belly breathing? Here are some helpful hints:
- Try placing one hand over your heart and another over your belly button. As you breathe, notice which hand is moving more. If your top hand is moving a lot, your breath is still quite shallow, and your diaphragm is not fully engaged. When your bottom hand is moving, you know your diaphragm is working.
- Another trick to learning belly breathing is to lay down flat on your back. Turn a cup upside-down and stand it on your abdomen. (I tell children to sit their teddy bear on their tummy! It doesn’t really matter what you use.) As you breathe, watch the cup (or teddy bear!) move up and down. Try not to use your abdominal muscles to move it, just your breath.
- Consider counting with your breath. First just notice how long each inhale and exhale is, and then begin to try to lengthen them by adding counts. Do what is comfortable for you.
- If you feel comfortable and safe, closing your eyes can be helpful. With your eyes closed, you may become more mindful of your body and the sensations of your breath.
Once you have an awareness of how your body feels when you breathe deeply you can begin to use this kind of technique in other ways. For example, you can catch yourself feeling a little panicky in a busy grocery store, pause for a moment, take a few belly breaths, and finish your task a little more calmly.
Belly breathing is the foundation of many relaxation and experiential techniques that can enhance your therapy experience, so give this method a try!
Give yourself permission to slow down and breathe…just breathe…
Categories: Skills and Resources