While it may not be anatomically correct, there’s something wonderfully soothing about imagining your heart as the center of every breath. Here’s how:
Rest both hands over your heart.
Imagine breathing in and out through your heart.
Feel your body relax and your mind quiet.
Continue until you feel calm returning to your entire system.
I once tried this with my daughter while she was recovery from surgery. Still in the hospital and having a very difficult time with pain management, her heart monitor registered dangerously high. I placed my hand over her heart and asked her to breathe into my hand. Very soon the monitor was quiet and ease began to spread through her body. We stuck with it until she was able to maintain that sense of calm all on her own.
Heart breathing isn’t something I invented. This simplified version is a derivative of HeartMath, an intriguing, science-based, approach to relieving anxiety and fear. For more on HeartMath, check out their website: https://www.heartmath.com.
Photo by Nine Köpfer on Unsplash
Nothing is more natural than breathing.
Your body thrives on the oxygen you draw in through your lungs. And your body knows exactly what to do to take a breath.
So why do you sometimes find yourself a bit short of breath, wishing you could pull in one big inhale?
A serious medical condition aside, it may surprise you to learn that it’s not so much an inability to inhale that’s keeping you from filling your lungs to capacity but rather an inability to exhale. In fact, Fritz Perls, M.D., one of the grand-daddies of body-centered psychotherapy, often noted that “Anxiety is excitement without breathing.”
Whether you’re holding your breath with anticipation or simply taking shallow breathes, the quickest way to deepen your breathing and release the tension in your ribcage (which by the by is one of the main reasons your breath became shallow in the first place) is to exhale completely.
Give it a try:
When you feel you have reached your limit, push out just a little bit more air.
One way to easily do this is to imagine breathing out through a straw or blowing up a balloon. When you feel your lungs are empty give one last little blow. Make sure you’re exhaling from your chest and lungs rather than air held in your cheeks.
After that last push simply stop.
Hold your breath.
When you feel you really need to breathe, let go and allow air to enter your lungs.
Feel how much deeper and easier you are breathing.
Still not sure you’re doing it “right”? Here’s a clue. If you don’t automatically take a giant breath, chances are you’re “cheating” either by taking tiny inhalations or not allowing yourself to fully exhale. If that’s the case for you, fear not. Get an actual straw and a small cup of water. Blow bubbles continuously through the straw until your lungs ache for air. Hold your breath while you take the straw from your mouth and see what happens if you just let go and let nature take it’s course.
Notice: If you wait and let your inhalation happen automatically, your ribs will fully expand to pull air into your lungs. Your body WANTS to breathe. If you simply let it do what it already knows and wants to do, you’ll be rewarded with a much deeper breath than if you try to make your ribcage expand to inhale.
Chances are you are doing it anyway. Restricted breathing is one of the hallmarks of anxiety. So rather than let a natural response get the better of you, why not turn the tables.
By taking conscious control of your automatic response to hold your breath, you are gently showing your nervous system, “this is what you do.” When your system gets the message, it responds by letting go into deeper breathing. And greater ease.
Give it a try:
Without doing anything special, simply stop breathing. Hold your breath until you feel the urge to breathe. Then let go and notice how much deeper and easier your breath has become. And how much more relaxed your body feels.
Repeat two or three times if you like. Each time, let the movement be simple – no need to take a deep breath or exhale completely. Trying to make this simple movement more complex by trying to take a deep breath can work against you.
Teach yourself ease by sticking to the simplest possible variation. Stop what you are doing – breathing; wait until you feel the urge to breathe; let go.