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To Breathe or Not to Breathe?

Good questions to ask before you try!

By David A. Morris, LCSW

WOW! Everyone is breathing! I went to my daughter’s morning assembly and the principal had the students (all 350 of them) doing deep breathing. I have never seen 350 elementary school-aged kids so relaxed and smiling.

“If you own your breath, no one can steal your peace” – unknown author.

This quote makes the most sense because of the word ‘own.’ Deep breathing has to be purposeful for it to be effective. Owning it means you are deliberately in charge. The body and brain are easily connected through breath, even in an unconscious way. Consider our breath when we are scared, excited, relieved, and sleepy. Our brain automates a breathing response for each feeling. How much better can we influence our emotional state by taking control?

Here are some basics of deep or diaphragmatic breathing:

  1. Inhaling with an expanding abdomen for at least five seconds
  2. Hold breath for half a second
  3. Exhaling out the mouth for more seconds or equal to the inhalation.

Before breathing with purpose, consider these questions:

Am I willing to set aside my doubts and try it without judgment?

If you are hesitant about controlling your breath, don’t do it. Wait until you are ready to try it. Know your readiness by removing your judgments about deep breathing.

Do I need to slow down racing thoughts? 

If your thoughts are moving at such a rate, it is causing you stress, then breathing will help. Purposeful breathing is activating a self-regulation response built-in to your system. By slowing the system down, the brain often complies and slows the thought rumination down.

Do I need to slow down my heart rate?  

People often breathe 15 times per minute. Deep breathing asks to slow this to 5 – 6 times per minute. This will slow the heart rate down which in turn influences your vagus nerve. This nerve connects the base of brain with the abdomen. Positively influencing this part of your nervous system will benefit your heart rate and blood pressure.

Can I commit to it even when I am not stressed? 

Practice. Practice. Practice. Deep breathing as part of your routine will build a habit that will kick in when nervous. It can be difficult to try it only when stressed. Your typical stress response pattern may not allow it without practice.

Do you need a guide to incorporate breathing into your life? Is it time to make a change in regards to your anxiety, stress and blood pressure? New Directions Counseling has compassionate and collaborative therapists to walk along side of you.