Breathing Away Stress
The mainstay of relaxation breathing techniques is to be found in diaphragmatic (abdominal) breathing. It can be used as a direct stress reduction technique. More indirectly, it can be used as a form of meditation, as a preparation for autosuggestion or self-hypnosis, as a way of becoming calm when agitated or as a method for facilitating relaxation. It can also be used as a method of focusing and enhancing the learning experience. All of these are very relevant to stress management.
We suggest that you read through the exercise a few times to familiarise yourself with it. Then, when you are ready, begin.
The best way to learn abdominal breathing is to begin by sitting up straight on a chair with your hands resting on your lap and your feet placed firmly on the floor. Footwear is optional but be sure to avoid high heels or anything too tight.
When you are ready, close your eyes and begin to concentrate on your breathing. The aim at this point is just to get used to the way you are breathing. Pay attention to your depth of breath and its rhythm and pace.
Next, pay attention to which muscles you use when you breathe. It might help you to do this if you place one hand on your diaphragm (just under your ribs at the top of your stomach). Place the other hand on the upper part of your chest. Keep breathing normally and become aware of which hand is moving in and out as you breathe.
You may discover that you are doing abdominal breathing already, that is, the majority movement is under the bottom hand. If not, adjust your breathing slowly until only your bottom hand is moving. When this happens it means that you are using your diaphragm to control breathing. This may take some getting used to. When you are comfortable with things, allow your hands to relax.
This kind of breathing is beneficial and it actually provides the correct kind of exercise for your breathing muscles. When doing this exercise it may be best to breathe through your nose while keeping you mouth closed. Avoid, however, clenching your teeth as this generates stress in your jaw area.
When you first begin you may be surprised at the time distortions which can occur. What this means is that you might spend two minutes on an exercise but believe you have spent a quarter of an hour doing it, or vice versa. In the beginning it is more likely to be the former.