Ten Relaxation Breaths
“Conscious breathing heightens awareness and deepens relaxation”
– Dan Brule
When I first heard of taking ‘Ten Relaxation Breaths’, I immediately disregarded the entire notion that it could provide any benefit at all. It seemed too simple to be effective.
I never even attempted it.
Why? I didn’t want to look foolish in front of people, or myself. Somebody stopping what they are doing to ‘just breathe’ seems odd. I didn’t want to put myself in such a vulnerable situation just to try something that I ‘knew’ wouldn’t help.
I know of many people who feel the same, yet despite this piece of advice being thrown around on a daily basis, it is rarely implemented. This is a massive shame because slow breathing is one of the quickest and most accessible methods available to reduce anxiety.
The goal of the rest of this chapter is to convince you to try the technique and to feel for yourself the amazing impact upon your anxiety levels.
It took the birth of my first child to convince me of its benefits. To help with the birthing process, my wife turned to the practice of ‘CalmBirth’. This is basically a combination of education, preparation and breathing exercises designed to best prepare the expecting mother for labor.
Each night we listened to a guided breathing recording that got us to do many repetitions of slow deep breaths. Not only did the practice make the birthing process a (relatively) calm and joyful experience, but the benefits on our day to day anxiety levels were mind blowing.
Take one slow and deep breath, in through the nose and out through the mouth.
Attempt to get the air deep into your stomach. Hold it there for a few seconds and slowly let it out through your mouth.
How did that feel?
Notice how your posture was forced to change in order to take the deep breath?
It is impossible breathe deeply with a slouched, tense, ‘anxious or depressed’ posture. This physiological change of posture will send a signal to your brain and your mood will begin to change.
The mind and body are interconnected. If you are feeling mental stress, tension and pressure, your body will soon follow. Similarly, if you are sick, unfit, have a poor diet or are under physical duress, your mental state will also soon suffer.
When we perceive a threat, real or imagined, the sympathetic nervous system is activated and hormones are released. This is basically the ‘flight or fight’ response. Our lungs expand to take in more oxygen, our pupils dilate to take in more light, and our heart rate increases. Organs and glands produce and release hormones and chemicals and our digestion stops. Energy is diverted towards the larger muscle groups in preparation for action.
This response is natural and necessary, it keeps us alive. You will have felt the sympathetic nervous system in action if you have ever been in a fight, a car crash, a heated argument, an intense competition, or spoken in front of a large crowd.
Do you remember how long it took for you to feel normal again afterwards?
When the ‘threat’ has passed, and you are now safe, your parasympathetic nervous system will begin the slow process of returning your body back to normal. It is also responsible for the release of a variety of hormones that are responsible for digestion, sleep, relaxation, sexual function and a plethora of other bodily systems. It is important to note that if the sympathetic nervous system is activated, the parasympathetic nervous system, and all its related functions, will be impeded.
So what does all this have to do with anxiety and breathing?
Anxiety is the perception of a continuous, low level threat.
It causes the sympathetic nervous system to be constantly on, and subsequently the calming impact of the parasympathetic nervous system is not fully activated. The body is in a constant state of partial readiness. This translates into feelings of anxiety and stress.
This is where the breathing comes in. If you are breathing slowly, your brain will interpret that there is no danger. How could there be? If there was a danger present, you wouldn’t be breathing slowly!
If you change the body, the mind will follow.
By taking long and slow breaths you are calming the body down, your heart rate will slow and your tension will fall. This will have a cascading effect as the parasympathetic nervous system will start to work more and trigger more relaxation.
This effect will be cyclic. The more the body relaxes the more the mind will relax, and the more the mind relaxes the more the body will relax, and so on.
Using the same method as before, you are going to take 10 slow and deep breaths. Don’t worry about ‘how long’ each breath should be, just attempt to breathe deeper and slower than usual.
In through the nose and deep into the stomach. Hold it there for a few seconds and slowly let it out through your mouth.
Gently repeat this cycle 10 times.
If you are struggling with the timing of your breaths, or the focus on the breath is making you feel nervous, try using the ‘Slow Breath Animation’ in the resource section. It is a simple animation that will help regulate your breathing.
Continue the conversation
What was it like to actually try Ten Relaxation Breaths?
Tweet @zacpphillips #breathe, with your thoughts.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q) Should I stand or sit? Eyes open or closed?
A) It is all personal preference. Experiment and find out the way that works best for you.
I like to use this technique both as an ‘on the go’ anxiety reduction technique and as a ‘pre sleep’ relaxation technique. For anxiety reduction, I just do it in whatever situation I am in.
Most often the people around me are never aware that I am even doing it. I just take 10 slow and deep breaths while standing there. Before bed, I do it lying down with my eyes closed as I fall asleep.
Health Benefits Of Deep Breathing Collation Of Studies, Project Monkey Mind:
Slow Breath Animation: youtube.com/watch?v=aXItOY0sLRY
Your mind and body are interconnected. By breathing slowly and deeply, your body relaxes, thus your mind will also relax and your anxiety will reduce.