Tool #2: Diaphragmatic Breathing

Your breath…although you may not always notice it, it is always there, and is an easy tool for grounding you in any moment.

Let’s try this exercise together. Read through the steps so you’ll know what to do!

  1. Close your eyes. Put one hand on your belly button and one hand on your chest.
  2. Take a slow,deep breath in through your nose. Where do you feel the movement of the breath? Your shoulders, your chest, your abdomen? Notice how it feels in your body. Notice the very beginning of the inhalation and the very end.
  3. Next, begin a very slow exhalation through your mouth. Notice the changes as you begin to exhale slowly.
  4. Now, repeat this while focusing on drawing in the breath with your diaphragm, the muscle in your low chest/upper abdomen that helps to expand your lungs as you breathe. Focus on drawing in the breath from the belly. Feel the belly expand, like a balloon. Feel the movement in the abdomen as the diaphragm flattens to bring air in and then feel it curves up to exhale. Does your breath feel deeper and less inhibited this time?
  5. Take 3 slow deep breaths with the belly, relax into it, and then open your eyes.

How do you feel after completing this? I often use this exercise with my patients when they are feeling anxious about a procedure, or they are experiencing pain. Something as simple as pausing, taking 3 deep breaths and reclaiming your focus on the present moment can be surprisingly helpful.

A similar type of breathing, called Okinaga breathing, uses deep breathing with prolonged exhalation. A clinical study testing the effects of an extended session of Okinaga breathing on brain and heart activity showed decreased production of beta waves in the brain, which are the fast wave communication in the brain during the normal waking state of consciousness, and an increase in alpha and theta waves, those associated with restfulness, calm, sleep and deep meditation. It also showed decreased heart rate variability. These findings suggest that deep breathing may induce relaxation similar to sleep and steady the cardiovascular system, thus relieving anxiety. (Komori Mental Illness 2018; 10:7881)

Next time you are feeling stress, anxiety or pain, or before a medical procedure, give this technique a try to calm your mind and body.