By Elaine Santos - Wellness as Art
Effortless stress relief with breathing.
Breathing is a flexible, simple, and effortless stress management technique that can be incorporated into your day at any time.
A deep breath taps into our relaxation response. The relaxation response or the parasympathetic nervous system is the mode our body is in when we are able to rest and digest. On the other side is the sympathetic nervous system or stress response also called fight or flight. When our bodies are in the sympathetic mode we have many physiological responses such as our breathing becoming shallow.
Diaphragmatic Breathing (breathing using the diaphragm or lower abdomen) activates the parasympathetic nervous system through longer exhalations which results in relaxation. It is one of the most basic relaxation techniques and is often paired with other modalities (ex. progressive muscular relaxation, imagery).
- Decreases resting heart rate
- Promotes feelings of relaxation
- Decreases muscle tension
- Improves mental clarity
- Increases oxygen capacity in lungs
- Helps deal with stress overload
Diaphragmatic breathing is a simple and accessible technique. It is easy to teach and learn, it is free, it can be practiced anywhere (home, work, car, etc.), and it works for all bodies.
Three Steps to Relaxation:
Step One: Get into a comfortable position (lay down, stand, or sit)
Step Two: Concentration
- Minimize external interruptions (turn off phone and other notifications)
- Focus attention on breathing
- Try exhaling away distracting thoughts
- Focus on the phases of breath (inhale, pause, exhale, pause)
Step Three: Visualization (optional but try it out – it can make for a richer experience)
- Imagine clouds – inhale fresh air, exhale dark clouds, continue until clouds are clear
- Create visuals around the belly or diaphragm
- Get Creative!
- Try hissing while you exhale to get the most expiration, this results in a deeper inhalation (Franklin, 2012)
- If you usually sit, try laying down or standing up to see how this changes your breathing (Todd, 1937)
I share a few breathing techniques in this video.
Franklin, E. (2012) Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery, 2nd Edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Seaward, B. (2015). Managing stress, 8th Edition. Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett.
Todd, M.E. (1937) The Thinking Body: A Study of the Balancing Forces of Dynamic Man Gouldsboro, ME: The Gestalt Journal Press.