Technique for Breathing Correctly
Some people have eliminated their anxiety symptoms simply by changing the way they breathe. There is a whole science behind proper breathing techniques which goes back thousands of years.
Practitioners of Yoga know that the connection between the mind and the body centers on breathing properly. The mechanics of all this is discussed on a separate page, but the recommended breathing method and some practice tips are shown here.
While breathing techniques vary from expert to expert, these are common to most of them -
- breathe into your diaphragm, not shallow "chest" breathing
- inhale through the nose,
- exhale through the mouth,
- take longer to exhale than to inhale,
- slow down! (reduce your breaths-per-minute)
- practice until it becomes your natural breathing pattern.
Note: When breathing correctly into the diaphragm (shown as a dark-red curved line above,) your stomach will rise more than your chest.
Here's the basic method:
First, test your current breathing pattern
- Begin by lying flat on your back or standing up straight. You may also sit up straight in a chair, if that is more comfortable.
- Place one hand on your stomach area and one hand on your chest.
- Breathe as you normally would and notice whether your "stomach" hand rises or your "chest" hand rises.
- To breathe properly, your stomach area must rise more than your chest as your diaphragm expands.
Second, Learn proper breathing technique:
- To learn to breathe correctly, begin by slowly breathing in through your nose through the count of 4.
- Hold the breath for a count of 7.
- Slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of 8. (Some call this 4-7-8 breathing.) When you exhale, try to make a soft "whoosh" sound by holding the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth (or lightly clench your teeth) as you exhale slowly.
- Repeat this process for three more times (for a total of four breaths.) Do not do more than four breaths at first - with practice, you can work your way up to eight breaths. Do this twice each day.
- If the process causes you to begin panicking, only do it for as long as you are able.
- Increase the number of breaths each day until you can do the exercise for at least eight breaths twice per day.
- If you continue to practice breathing this way, you will soon be doing it naturally throughout the day.
- An additional benefit will be that once you are familiar with the exercise, you can do it while experiencing anxiety or the beginning of a panic attack, and you will feel relief.
Now, change your breathing throughout the day:
Follow the steps above with one important twist: rather than practicing twice per day, practice throughout the day. . .it is more effective. Think about it: you breathe all day, right? So you should breathe correctly all day.
Practice taking a full breath through your nose, hold briefly, and then "whoosh" your exhale slowly as described - but do that at least every 15 minutes all day long. This has two immediate benefits, you are practicing more total "breaths" during the day, and you are making proper breathing a routine throughout your day.
A proper breathing technique is very important and requires practice. A proper technique can be learned for taking breaths in and letting breaths out - without making yourself feel dizzy. And, once made a part of one's natural body rhythm, those feelings of the onset of an attack become less frequent, and in some cases, disappear.
- Do not be angry with yourself or give up if you cannot do this exercise correctly right away. It takes practice. Give yourself time.
- Do not be afraid of the exercise causing panic. Remember: you are in control and can stop at any time.
- Take it as slowly as needed. Work your way up to every 15 minutes - don't try to rush into this.
- and, most importantly, start out seated as you may feel light-headed the first few times you breathe "correctly."
- Remember to breathe! Our lives are filled with distractions and a task or hobby can be so absorbing, you forget to breathe. Use a timer or an on-screen reminder to make sure you breathe at regular intervals.
But - you have to remember to do your breathing. I have to use a breathing reminder to stay focused when an attack is coming on (I use a reminder device I designed for myself - see BreathMinder.)
In Dr. Andrew Weil's Premier Issue of his newsletter, Self Healing, he states, "the most effective and time-efficient relaxation method I know is to practice breathing exercises regularly. My patients have used these simple techniques not only to center themselves but also to address various health problems, from stopping panic attacks to improving digestion."
According to Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati, teacher of yoga meditation, "It is one of the very sad things in our culture that so few know the profound effect of regulating the breath"
Helpful tools. . . .
How often have you been at a computer keyboard, sewing, or just watching TV and you notice yourself "shallow breathing?" I'll become focused and forget to take in a good, cleansing breath, so I use a small timer I wear under my clothes that reminds me to breathe - but ones I found on the market were bulky and loud.
I wanted a silent alarm - to not attract unwanted attention - something simple and easy to operate - and no programming! I couln't find one, so I invented one. I found a factory that would build one to my specifications and I love it. I call it The BreathMinder.
Page last updated August 11, 2012
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