Many people realize that stress is greatly impacting their lives. It may be related to school, their work life, finances or family situations. Chronic stress has a debilitating effect on all aspects of our lives, including our academic performance, our interpersonal relationships and our physical and mental health. One way to combat chronic stress is to incorporate mindfulness practices into your daily life. Finding a few moments each morning or evening to practice mindful breathing is a first step in managing and reducing chronic stress. It begins with a simple intention to make a change for the better.
Mindful Breathing is a metacognitive strategy for cultivating wellness and reducing stress. It combines a deep breathing technique with mindfulness that increases our ability to monitor our cognition and regulate our attention and emotions. It also promotes a healthful mindset so we can cope with daily stressors more effectively. Mindful breathing increases our resilience to respond to stressful situations and to regulate our responses to them. Using a technique called “diaphragmatic breathing” we can reteach our bodies to slow down and work more efficiently in stressful situations. We can focus our attention on our breathing, which we frequently take for granted because it is regulated for us by our autonomic nervous system. With sustained practice, mindful breathing helps us to gently take back control to calm our bodies and our minds.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Technique
- Begin in a seated position, either on the floor with your legs crossed in front of you, or seated in a chair. Sit upright with your back straight. If you feel too much sway in your back you can place a firm pillow or rolled towel or blanket under your bottom. This should tilt your pelvis forward slightly and help to straighten your back.
- Place the palm of your right hand on your stomach over your navel. Place the palm of your left hand on your chest. You will be observing your hands while learning this breathing technique.
- As you inhale through your nose, fill your lower lungs with air. Your diaphragm muscle will relax and your lower belly should rise with this inhalation. As you continue to inhale your chest should also rise at the end of the inhalation. Observe your right hand rise as your lower lobes of your lungs fill with air. Your left hand will rise as you fill your upper lobes with air.
- As you slowly exhale, either through your nose or mouth, watch your chest and your lower abdomen fall and return to a normal resting position. You will still have residual air in your lungs and as you master this technique you will finish each exhalation by lifting your diaphragm to push out some additional air from your lower lungs. This forced exhalation allows you to take in more air on the next inhalation.
- Repeat the cycle, again watching your hands as they rise with the inhalation and fall with the exhalation.
As you engage in Diaphragmatic Breathing you can integrate this Mindfulness Technique:
- On your inhalation breath, focus on the word “in” or say “breathing in” in your mind. Do not engage in any other dialogue or self talk during your inhalation.
- On your exhalation breath, focus on the word “out” or say “breathing out” in your mind. Do not engage in any other dialogue or self talk during your exhalation.
- As you repeat this process you will notice thoughts appear or ideas emerge. Return your attention to the breath and focus on “in” or “out”.
- As you continue the cycle of in and out breaths, give yourself permission to not respond to ideas or thinking about what you are doing, other than focusing on the “in” or “out” breath.
- Continue to sustain your breathing cycles for 10 minutes. After ten minutes check in with yourself to see if you were able to maintain your focus for the 10 minutes. If so you can increase the session to 15 minutes in your next sitting.
Take control over the stress that is making you feel unhealthy and unhappy. It all begins with just a breath.
To learn more about Mindful Breathing, go to http://www.mindfulbreathing.net.
Donald D. Matthews, PsyD