Breathing is something we do (and do not do) without even thinking about it. Anytime you do something on auto-pilot, there's a chance you could be missing something.
Take a moment now to focus in on your breath. What do you notice? Is your breathing long, deep, and slow? Or more short, shallow, and fast? Are you holding your breath? If you are experiencing any stress, chances are you are taking short, shallow breaths. And if you experience stress often, you likely breathe this way most of the time without even realizing it. This means your body and brain are not getting the oxygen they need to adequately respond to stress.
But taking time to be aware of and adjust your breathing is important for other reasons including managing stress. Our breath supports us in our emotional, physical, and spiritual health. It allows us to express ourselves and communicate with others. When faced with any kind of challenge, be sure that your breathing will be affected. Have you ever caught yourself holding your breath when getting bad news or watching a scary movie?
As a songwriting therapist, I often talk with clients about the importance of breathing. In fact, it is one of the first skills I teach clients. We all know how to breathe, of course, but we all need to be reminded of breathing techniques that support our overall health.
There's a very effective breathing technique, sometimes referred to as belly breathing, that involves the following:
- Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet on the floor.
- Put one hand on your belly and your other hand on your chest.
- Inhale through your nose. As you do, the hand on your belly should move away from you.
- Exhale through your mouth. As you do, the hand on your belly should move toward you.
- Imagine your breath filling your belly like a balloon as you breathe in and imagine the balloon deflating as you breathe out. The hand on your chest should not move during the inhale or exhale.
Once you get comfortable with this breathing technique, you can do it without putting your hands on your belly and chest. You can also introduce variations, such as:
- Breathing in and out through your mouth
- Breathing in and out through your nose
- Breathing in for four counts, holding your breath for four counts, breathing out for four counts, and holding your breath for four counts,
The best time to practice new breathing techniques (or any new techniques for that matter) is during times of low stress so that your body can get used to something new. The more you practice, the easier it will be to use these new techniques when you really need them.