Often times in therapy, we work with clients on using their breath as a tool. This can be a very helpful practice, and there are many ways to use breath as a tool to affect how you are feeling. Not only can breath be used to change your state, but it is a great check in tool and can be used as a means of taking a break and acknowledging how you are feeling.
Breath can help you make contact with the present moment and assess your current state.
Have you ever noticed how your breath changes with your moods or states? Typically, it gets faster and more shallow with anxious or excited states; slower and deeper with depressive, tired, or relaxed states. I invite you to take a moment to assess your current state by observing your breath. You don’t have to do anything to change it. Just watch it. Observing and feeling your body being breathed. What does your breath say about your state in this moment? Is it quick and shallow, deep and slow, or maybe somewhere in between?
Breath can be intentionally altered to change your state.
Now that you know what state you are in, you might choose to intentionally change your breathing pattern to change your state. Do you need more calm? Do you need more energy? How about more balance? When you breathe in, you are activating the sympathetic nervous system which energizes you. When you breathe out, you are affecting the parasympathetic nervous system which relaxes you.
Longer breath in = More energy
Longer breath out = More relaxation
To do these equally is said to balance the nervous system, the body, and the mind.
Box Breath: This breath exercise is a balance breathing exercise. I invite you to start by counting your breath:
- Count to 4 as you breathe in
- Hold for 4
- Count to 4 as you breathe out
- Hold for 4
Just practice this for a few minutes and see what you notice about how you are feeling. What was your state when you began? Has it shifted since then?
Need more Energy? If you notice yourself needing more energy, you might try taking a few deep breaths, lengthening and deepening the “in” breath and making the out breath short and forceful. You’ll likely feel a little tingly in your body and head with the extra oxygenation, like little energy bubbles. Just do a few of these. Be careful not to overdo as this can cause you to feel lightheaded and hyperventilate.
Need to reduce stress or feel more relaxed? If you notice yourself needing more relaxation, try some shorter inhales and longer exhales. Try breathing in to a count of 4 and out to a count of 7 or 8. You might notice some sinking, softening, or relaxing sensation with this. A great tool when you find yourself feeling a lot of stress or anxiety.
You can use your breath to take a break, check in, notice your current state, and meet your needs for more or less energy in any space and at any time.
Written by: Lulu McPharlin, ACMHC