Our breath is a powerful tool that can help us to manage muscle tension and stress. It is always with us, so it is a useful relaxation method that we can turn to whenever we need it. So how can breathing help?
When we feel anxious, we tend to alter our breathing. Instead of taking slow, deep breaths (diaphragmatic breathing), we often take shallow rapid breaths using mainly our chest, which can sometimes lead to hyperventilation and/or cause anxiety to escalate. To help us to calm down and relax, we should aim to try and slow down our breathing; and take long, deep breaths.
Below are two exercises that you can do to help promote calm and relaxation.
Belly breathing (or diaphragmatic breathing)
Belly breathing is a great way to slow down the breath, and relieve stress.
1. Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position.
2. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your tummy and take a few natural breaths. Where do you feel movement when you breathe? If you are breathing in a relaxed manner, you want the hand on your chest to stay mostly still, while the hand on your tummy should move up and down as you breathe in and out.
3. Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let your belly push your hand out.
4. Breathe out through pursed lips as if you were whistling. Feel the hand on your belly go in.
5. Breathe in gently and regularly, counting steadily from 1 to 4 (or whateer number feel comfortable for you)
6. Then breathe out gently and steadily for the same count.
7. Repeat for at least a minute.
8. Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.
Note – when you first start to do breathing exercises, you may find it difficult or like you are short of breath. Don’t worry if you experience it – it is quite normal. This feeling happens because we are not used to breathing in a slow and controlled manner… but with practice, things should become easier.