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To breathe in, start the metronome and begin slowly inflating your lungs during the seven Beats, pacing yourself until your lungs are full as you reach the sound of the Accent.  Count the Beats: breathe in 12345678.

To breathe out, purse your lips and again slowly follow the seven Beats as you exhale until your lungs are completely empty as you hear the next Accent.  Once again, count the Beats.

Then begin again.  Practise until you get it right and the regular, deep, slow breathing becomes automatic and comfortable.


CONTENTS

  SECTION 1        Introduction

  SECTION 2        Benefits of Deep Breathing Exercises

  SECTION 3        Breathing Techniques

  SECTION 4        Breathing Metronomes

  SECTION 5        Additional Techniques

  SECTION 6        Related Topics

  SECTION 7        Comments and Feedback

SECTION 1                Introduction

Poor breathing can have a negative effect (if not causing then at least making worse) on many chronic conditions such as asthma, allergies, anxiety, fatigue, depression, headaches, heart conditions, high blood pressure, sleep loss, obesity, excessive stress, poor mental concentration, etc, etc.

In the case of anxiety and panic attacks, one of the primary symptoms is hyperventilation.  The purpose of this page is to offer advice on measures to counter this aspect of anxiety, both for those occasions when we feel a panic attack approaching (or already arrived) and also for helping to "inoculate" us against (increase our resistance to) such occurrences in the first place.

Practising deep breathing exercises is one of the most effective ways we can reduce and avoid anxiety, both generally and in specific situations, and it forms the most basic practical element of a meditation-based routine to keep us calm, relaxed and healthy throughout our lives.

SECTION 2                Benefits of Deep Breathing Exercises

When we breathe "normally" (ie, when we are at rest and neither exerting ourselves physically nor breathing faster due to panic) we tend to breathe in a very lazy way, drawing in fairly shallow breaths and exhaling only part of the air in our lungs each time.

Practising deep breathing is quite different.  Because it involves filling our lungs, slowly in a very controlled way, to their maximum capacity and then breathing out in the same slow way until we have completely expelled the very last drop of air in our lungs -- and repeating this for an extended period of 5, 10, 15 minutes or more -- we can achieve the following benefits:-

Optimising Oxygen / Carbon Dioxide Levels

Our autonomic nervous system normally controls the relative levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our bodies, without our conscious minds having to think about it much or at all.  If however we begin to hyperventilate (breathing too fast in shallow breaths as a result, for example, of the Fight or Flight Syndrome occurring during stress/anxiety/panic), our carbon dioxide levels fall too low and, through an increased acidification of our bloodstream, this can produce symptoms of lightheadedness, dizziness and a tingling feeling in fingers and toes (all of which of course makes us feel even more panicky, making us hyperventilate even more, making us panic even more, and so on and so on in a nasty vicious circle).

Inducing Feelings of Calm

  • Deep breathing appears to aid the production within our bodies of Endorphins, produced by the pituitary gland and often described as "natural pain relievers".  This effect is most likely indirect and caused by the feelings of relaxation and calm that should result from sustained deep breathing practice.
  • Deep breathing lowers our blood pressure, again making us feel even more relaxed.
  • Deep breathing helps to relax the body's muscles.
Immunising Ourselves Against Panic Attacks

Regular, daily practising of breathing and relaxation techniques:

  • Helps to reduce the chances of having a Panic Attack in the first place by reducing our background stress levels, so that when we do encounter another situation where we may be likely to have a Panic Attack we will be better able to resist it and stop it "taking over".
  • Helps lessen the degree of panic if we do have a Panic Attack.
Blocking Unwelcome Thoughts

Our conscious minds are not like parallel-processing computers, and we are (thankfully) unable to process more than one thought stream at a time.  But it is hard to stop other thoughts and feelings trying to push in and occupy that space in our minds.  This is particularly true of anxious thoughts.

Properly applied, Deep Breathing exercises demand our full concentration and mental focus.  With practice, it becomes easier and easier to block or push aside all other thoughts, for the meantime, which would otherwise try to fill our minds with anxiety and fear.

--------------------------------

Even if we can't realistically hope for a life of 100% calm and relaxation (which would in any event make for a very boring existence), what we can strive for, and achieve, is a greater sense of balance between Stress and Calm.  Learning to practise therapeutic Deep Breathing is one of the simplest and often most effective ways we can begin to reach that equilibrium.

SECTION 3                Breathing Techniques

There is no single "best way" to practise Deep Breathing.  Below, you will find tips that will help you get started, after which you can adapt to suit yourself best according to your own circumstances.

1)  Prevent Interruptions

Most people find that early mornings are the best time to avoid interruptions.  This also has the added benefit of helping you to "start the day right".  But it will do no good at all if you begin a Deep Breathing exercise only to have someone else in your family barging in and breaking your concentration.  Either find somewhere to go where you cannot be interrupted by anyone, or if that's not possible then tell others to leave you alone for the 5, 10 or 15 minutes each day that you will be doing your Deep Breathing.

2)  When To Do It

First thing in the morning is the most effective single time of day you can do this: it will help set you up for the day and calm any specific or background anxieties nagging away at you.

Last thing at night, as an additional time to perform the exercise, is also very good for helping you to relax and wind down before going to sleep.

3)  Do It Every Day and Be Ruthless!

All of us are highly proficient at finding "reasons" for not doing something -- it's what we humans do best!  The first problem you will encounter when trying to do regular Deep Breathing exercises (especially first thing in the morning, which is also the most effective time of day to do this) is "finding" the time to do it.  You don't "find" time to do things: you make time.

And to avoid forgetting, try placing a Post-It note reminder where you will see it first thing when you wake.

Too many people try a Deep Breathing exercise once, maybe two or three times, and then just give up.  Lack of perseverance and determination, combined with our modern culture of expecting a "quick fix" solution to everything, are usually to blame.  For this technique of stress-busting to work for you, you must make the time to do it, every single day, and be utterly ruthless about it!

If you find yourself too busy, too rushed, to do this exercise first thing each day, then set your alarm to wake you up 15 minutes earlier.  You may feel you're losing 15 minutes' sleep, but you will be gaining something far more valuable.

4)  Sit Down

The aim here is to be both relaxed and alert.  If you stand, your muscles will be tense and as a result you will feel tense.  If you lie down, you risk becoming so relaxed that you will feel drowsy, which will make it harder for you to focus.  This isn't really about relaxing the way we might if we're slumped in front of the TV or lying down on a bed, etc. It's to do with trying to relax in a state of heightened awareness, not drowsiness.

Use a straight-backed chair or a stool to sit on, plant your feet side by side firmly on the ground, hold your hands loosely in your lap or on your thighs, straighten your back, pull your shoulders back slightly so you are not slumping or slouching, and tilt your head very slightly upwards (see picture below).

With this relaxed but "mindful" posture you will find it easier to breathe deeply and relax fully whilst still remaining mentally alert.
 
SECTION 6                Related Topics

Anxiety

Hyperventilation

Meditation 
[ADD LINK]

Positive Affirmation  [ADD LINK]

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5)  Breathe In

Breath in through your nose if you can.  This not only helps to control the slowness of the breath but also if there are (or you have surrounded yourself with) any pleasant scents around this will allow you to enjoy the smell and add to your sense of relaxation.  (My favourite is the smell of jasmine.)

Breath in as slowly as you can manage.

Fill your lungs slowly with as much air as you can force in, allowing your stomach to expand from the downward pressure of your diaphragm.

6)  Breathe Out

Breath out through your mouth.  Purse your lips to reduce the speed of the flow of air from your lungs.  Pretending you're blowing the seeds from a dandelion can help.

Breath out as slowly as you can.

Very slowly, allowing your stomach to contract from the upward pressure of your diaphragm, empty your lungs and force out the last drop of air inside them.

(If, like most people, you're not used to expelling all the air from your lungs then you may find that to begin with this will make you cough and splutter a little: that's OK, just clear your lungs and start the breathing exercise again.)

7)  Focus Your Thoughts - A "Mini-Holiday"

Imagine yourself taking a mini-holiday, leaving behind all the memories and baggage of your past, and the the worries and fears about the future.  You're going to take a short holiday to the Land of the Present Moment.

Close your eyes and imagine a box or chest.  Colour it black.  Black for the all the negative thoughts and memories in your life, past and future.  Open the box and carefully place inside it all the thoughts and worries that you want to leave behind you while you are "away".  Close the box tight.  Lock it.

Relax your body.  Start with your toes and gradually work your way up your body, focusing on each area in turn, until you reach the top of your head.  (For help with this physical relaxation technique, click here.)

Once you feel quiet, relaxed and ready, begin the breathing exercise using the metronomes below.

Banish all other thoughts from your mind: this is your holiday, however short, and don't let anyone of anything else intrude and spoil it for you.  Focus on the breathing count and nothing else.  Don't allow your thoughts to wander anywhere they want to go.  Pay close attention to what you are thinking at every moment and the instant you detect an intruder trying to break into your mind, kick it right out!  You are relaxed and completely in control.  Force it back inside that Black Box!

SECTION 4                Breathing Metronomes

The metronomes below are intended purely to help you begin to practise Deep Breathing.  Deep, slow breathing is, at first, quite difficult to regulate and we all tend to make the initial mistake of breathing too fast, often taking in great gulps of air, which of course results in Hyperventilation: the exact opposite of what we're trying to achieve!

Different tempos suit different people with different lung volumes, so try the various examples below until you can achieve the slowest one that you can use whilst still feeling comfortable.

Each metronome lasts for about 5 minutes and is divided into Beats and Accents.  There are seven regular Beats followed by an eighth sound called an Accent:

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SECTION 5                Additional Techniques

A lot of people also try chanting a mantra while breathing out, a common one being the sound of "OM", drawing out the syllable slowly as they breathe out and making the sound reverberate inside their head.

Another technique you might try is to use different pairs of words to focus on in your mind as you breathe: a positive word (some idea you want to promote or reinforce inside you) as you breathe in; and a negative one (something you want to get rid of) as you exhale.  Examples might be:-

In (some positive thoughts):-  Out (your negative thoughts):-
"CALM"                          "STRESS"
"LIGHT"                              "DARK"
"HOPE"                        "DESPAIR"
"ENERGY"                     "WASTE"
"HAPPINESS"               "GLOOM"

Have a think about this yourself and see if you can pick out your own pairs of words to think about as you breathe in Good Thoughts and breathe out the Bad Ones.

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Breathing
Click to sample the sound of a beat:-


Click to sample the sound of an accent:-

Breathing Exercise Number 1:                                           With background Stream sound:
(60 Beats = just under 4 complete breaths per minute)
Breathing Exercise Number 2:                                           With background Stream sound:
(55 Beats = about 3½ complete breaths per minute)
Breathing Exercise Number 3:                                           With background Stream sound:
(50 Beats = about 3 complete breaths per minute)
Breathing Exercise Number 4:                                           With background Stream sound:
(45 Beats = just under 3 complete breaths per minute)
Breathing Exercise Number 5:                                           With background Stream sound:
(40 Beats = about 2½ complete breaths per minute)
Once you have mastered the habit and now know how slowly, how deeply, you need to be breathing during this amazingly effective form of stress-busting, forget the metronomes and try some of our relaxing music here, or find your own to listen to while you . . .

BREATHE   SLOW

BREATHE   DEEP


 
 
 
 
 
 
Helping Children and Teenagers to Cope with Life
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JADE is a support site for children and younger teenagers, under the age of eighteen only, who suffer from Anxiety, Depression or other mental problems.

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