In my last post I discussed the concept of acceptance and the need to calm the body in order to get the mind into a place of acceptance. There are many relaxation techniques designed to calm the body. If you have one that works for you, you can use that. I will present exercises in my next two posts.
These initial exercises are focused on breathing.
“While we practice conscious breathing, our thinking will slow down, and we can give ourselves a real rest. Most of the time, we think too much, and mindful breathing helps us to be calm, relaxed and peaceful. It helps us stop thinking so much and stop being possessed by sorrows of the past and worries about the future. It enables us to be in touch with life, which is wonderful in the present moment.” – Thich Nhat Hahn
A focus on breathing is an important part of treatment for stress, panic and anxiety. The advantage of using breathing to calm the body is that we are breathing all the time. It is present when we attend to it and when we don’t. We continue to breathe when we concentrate on it specifically, but also when we totally ignore it, like when we are asleep. It is possible to focus on our breathing anywhere and anytime, such as in the middle of a meeting at work, when we’re on the phone or when we’re driving.
Focusing on breathing has many benefits.
- It is a natural and effective tool in preventing scattered or fractured thinking.
- It is a way to connect your body to your thoughts
- When your mind becomes scattered it’s a way to refocus.
- Focusing in breathing also generally has a calming effect
- It can help to anchor you in the present moment.
In each exercise, focus on bringing your awareness to your breathing. The first few times you do breathing exercises can feel awkward. Your mind may wander from your breathing or you may have judgments about your ability to stay focused. It is normal to feel that way. If you do feel awkward, just notice that feeling, and let it pass. If you get fidgety, just notice the urge to fidget and let it pass. If you lose focus or find you are distracted by sounds, gently bring your mind back to your breath and begin the exercise again. Trust in this moment and allow it to unfold without analyzing, judging or doubting it.
With each of the exercises below:
- Read through the instructions.
- Practice the first time in a quiet place where you’re unlikely to be disturbed.
- Allow yourself 3-5 minutes to practice.
- Remember that distractions and loss of focus are normal. Bring yourself back to the exercise if you notice you’re off track.
- Incorporate your practice into more stressful times as you become more proficient in the exercises.
Focus on breathing
Begin by breathing lightly. Now take in a long deep breath. Be aware that you are inhaling and filling your lungs. Breath out and, again, be aware. Continue and as you breath in, know you are breathing in a long breath. As you breath out, know you are breathing out a long breath. If you get tired or light headed, stop immediately and return to normal breathing.
Breathing with a Smile
Focus on breathing. Once you’ve gotten your focus, begin saying to yourself “Breathing in, I calm my body; breathing out, I smile.” This a breathing exercise is from Nhat Hanh (1991).
Research on facial feedback finds that when smiling relaxes all the muscles in the face our minds interpret it as happiness (even if we’re not happy), which results in a more positive mood.
Counting while breathing
Focus attention on your exhalation. Measure the length of your exhalation by counting 1 ,2, 3… Try to extend the length of each exhalation. After you exhale, allow yourself to inhale without effort. Inhale as much air as you need.