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  • Writer's pictureLisa Hess

Deep Breathing That Works

Updated: Aug 25, 2022

I used to think deep breathing was useless. Back when I was a wee beginning therapist I tried to get on board with deep breathing (just like meditation but that’s another post) and couldn’t understand why this was becoming a primary tool for managing stress and anxiety. Ok, I am breathing more, now what? What’s the magic thing I’m supposed to feel?

The problem was, I was doing it wrong. I discovered that to feel the calm that comes with deep breathing you have to stop and listen to your body while you do it. Being still in a busy world can be difficult. I have a short attention span when it comes to things like this so it feels extra challenging.

The reason why nearly every therapist will encourage this mindful practice is because it's a coping tool you always have with you. It’s an important connection to your sympathetic nervous system. It helps slow some of your body’s automatic functions like heart rate and blood pressure.

One of the things I’ve learned about using breath work as a coping skill is that it’s important to find a style that works for you. Are you a Lamaze breather, with a “hee-hee-hoo”? Are you strictly a mouth breather? I’ve listed some different styles below. Try them on and see which one fits you:

  • Basic Breath: Prop up your Uggs and make it basic- Slow breath through the nose for a few counts. The right number is whatever feels comfortable to you. Then exhale slow through the mouth.

  • Reverse Breath Girl: Slow through the mouth, exhale through the nose.

  • Garlic breath: Inhale, exhale like you’re fogging up a mirror or breathing your bad breath on someone you don’t like. (Who says pettiness can’t be therapeutic?)

  • The Runny Nose: Two small breaths through the nose, exhale through the mouth.

  • Sea Lion: lay on your stomach, with a pillow under your chest, place your head on your forearms. The pressure can have a calming effect.

  • Belly breathing: Yoga emphasizes this type of breath. Notice the rise and fall of your belly.

  • Rib breathing: Imagine you have a belt around your rib cage. Breathe in to the belt and imagine your ribs expanding 360 degrees in all directions; front, sides and back. Your stomach should be the last part to rise. I like this one because we often have restricted mobility in our ribs due to how sedentary we are and rib breathing can help improve this restriction.

  • The Pause: Inhale, *focus on the pause, hold for a few counts*, exhale. Focus on the mental space the pause brings.

It’s important to remember that you don’t have to do this for 10 or 15 minutes a day, or make a meditation room in your house. You can practice in your car on your way to work, at bedtime, at lunch for just a few minutes. If you have a short attention span and find your mind wandering away from your breath set a timer for 2 minutes and start there. Remember, some is better than none.


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