A New Take on Deep Breathing
How many articles have we all read about the stress-relieving benefits of deep breathing? You may have read something like this:
“Sit in a comfortable chair with both feet on the ground. Sit up straight. Allow your hands to rest on your thighs palms facing down. Close your eyes. Inhale and slowly exhale. Strive to make each exhale longer than the inhale. An easy way to do this is to count to 5 on the first inhale, then count to 6 during the first exhale. During the second inhale count to 6; then count to 7 during the 2nd exhale. Continue this process until you are inhaling and exhaling for 10 seconds. When you are ready, open your eyes. Check in with yourself to observe what should be a significant decrease in your stress level. Remember you can do this exercise just about anywhere, anytime.”
Does this sound (or read) familiar? If it works for you, GREAT. Keep it up and have it at the ready whenever you need it. However, when attempting these deep breathing exercises my inner monologue goes something like this, “Am I sitting up straight? Am I sitting too straight? I know I have a tendency to arch my back. I feel rigid. Am I supposed to feel rigid? How fast am I supposed to count? Do I keep breathing after I get to the ten second mark? I’m waiting for something to happen but nothing’s happening.” I open my eyes and find my stress level is just as high if not higher because I’m questioning whether I performed the technique correctly.
Though I have a master’s degree in Professional Counseling, I am not a mental health professional; but I am someone who has had to manage anxiety for years. I don’t recall how I stumbled across this “technique,” but I know it makes a real difference for me. It is my sincere hope that it may help some of you as well. Sit however you like, wherever you like. Inhale and as you exhale allow your body to go limp and tell yourself that as you exhale you are setting your stress aside for the duration of that exhale. Inhale again and as you exhale tell yourself once again that you are setting your stress aside for the duration of that exhale. Rinse and repeat. It really is that simple.
In those few seconds of exhaling, there’s no pressure. There’s nothing you have to get exactly right. There are no problems, no solutions, no standards to maintain, and no worries. It’s just a moment when you give yourself permission to rest. Much of the pressure we feel is self-imposed. Why shouldn’t we be just as empowered to give ourselves a break from those pressures from time to time? This is how I sneak moments of relief into my day. Give it a try. You may surprise yourself.
In the name of full disclosure, I will admit that there is ONE formal breathing technique that I find actually works for me. I don’t know how it works its magic, I just know it works for me. It’s not difficult to do, but it is a bit conspicuous so I tend to do it away from the office. Here’s a quick video.