Deepening the Breath

Anxiety and stress can affect the way you breathe. Holding your breath, as well as breathing rapidly or shallowly may be related to chronic anxiety, which can be a symptom of post-traumatic stress. Awareness and regulation of the quality of your breathing can have several positive effects:

  • Slowing and deepening your breathing allows for adequate intake of oxygen and output of carbon dioxide which is needed for physical well-being
  • Conscious breathing during times of distress allow you to release muscular and emotional tension, thus reducing levels of distress
  • Focusing awareness on breathing can shift thoughts away from flashbacks and non-productive or obsessive thinking, and bring your awareness back to the present moment

Get to know what your breathing patterns are like throughout the day. Take a quiet moment to tune in, and notice the following qualities of your breathing:

  • the depth of your breathing: is it shallow, deep, moderate
  • the rate of your breathing: is it fast, slow, moderate
  • the pause between the inhalation and exhalation of your breath
  • the expansion and contraction of your rib and abdominal areas
  • changes in the overall pattern of your breathing

Here is a simple breathing technique you can do anywhere:

  1. In a moment of calmness, inhale completely, and then count starting at 1 as you exhale
  2. When your exhale was complete (oxygen was completely out of your lungs) what number did you have?– This number now becomes your baseline. When you find yourself feeling anxious, stressed out, angry, etc. focus on slowing your breathing:
  3. Add 2 more numbers to your baseline

** This means slowing the rate of your exhale, not counting faster!

So, if during a moment of calm, your exhale takes you to the court of 6, during a moment of emotional upset, you will want to stretch that exhale to the count of 8.

Want to make that deep breathing more powerful? Add a Visualization to dandelionIncrease your Calm:

For some people, it is helpful to pair deep breathing with a calming vision. As you are learning this technique, it may be helpful to visualize a ship floating on the sea. As you breathe in, waves wash up onto the shore and the ship bobs closer. It bobs close enough to the shore that you can clearly see its details: lettering on the bow, the colour of the sails, people on the deck, etc. As you exhale, the waves pull away from the shore and the ship bobs farther out of view. Or you may want to visualize a feather floating in the air, a balloon, and so forth. Because deep breathing involves the pulling of oxygen into the lower lungs first, for some people it is helpful to visualize a jar being filled with water. As the water is poured in, it splashes into the bottom of the jar, then rises to the top, overflowing over the rim and out onto your hands. The jar symbolizes your torso, and the water the oxygen you breathe.

Resources:

Exhale-plus-2 Idea adapted from Carolyn Costin, MA, M.ED, MFT (2011)

Cohen, B. M., Barns, M. M., & Rankin, A. B.  (1995). Managing Traumatic Stress Through Art: Drawing from the Centre

Haskell, L. (2003). First Stage Trauma Treatment

Mate, G. (2003). When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress

Sgt. Charles E. Humes (2003). Lowering Pursuit-Induced Adrenaline Overloads
http://www.pusuitwatchorg/stories/adrenaline.html

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