Have you ever stopped to notice your breath before?
When you get a fright, you inhale and hold your breath. When you get anxious, you take short breaths, not quite big enough to actually fill your lungs and body full of oxygen. When you’re in pain you probably exhale hard but don’t really remember to inhale.
Can you see some patterns relating to the breath? Can you see how important the breath is to control and keep us calm? You don’t in fact have to do anything to exhale, to breathe out, that happens naturally. What we need to concentrate on is the inhalation – the breathing in of oxygen because our body (including our brain) needs it. It sounds obvious and you’re probably thinking, “I breathe all day”, but do you really?
Do you take nice long deep breaths that truly reach your belly and truly open your chest and fill your lungs? If you do, then you’ll be feeling completely relaxed all the time.
Let’s stop here and try.
Lie on the floor if you can, or sit up straight. Put your hand on your belly and breathe in through your nose. Breathe into your belly until it is big, until you feel it expand and your hand rise with it (you may have learned this in a yoga class). Exhale gently through your mouth and let out a long sigh. When you exhale you should feel your hand on your belly drop as the air comes out. Breathe all the way out until you literally can’t exhale any more.
This video will help show you to how to take this deep breath.
Now that you know how, let’s add colours to the breath. Think of a colour that you like that makes you feel calm and happy. Next, close your eyes and picture breathing in fresh oxygen and positive thoughts in this calm, beautiful colour full of love and happiness, all the way until your belly is big. When you exhale, breathe out all your negative thoughts, sadness and bad energy in a dirtier colour of brown or grey or whatever colour it is for you. Inhale love and all the beauty in your life and exhale what you don’t want or need. Try this a few more times.
If you are taking long, deep breaths now, can you feel how much space you actually have inside? More than you realised? Now that is a full breath!
It is not always simple and it does not come easily to everyone. I actually ended up having lessons in how to do this, because I felt like I couldn’t. I found it very stressful and scary to think that I didn’t know how to take a full deep breath until I learned and practiced. As with anything, practice is the key. Once you feel comfortable you can start using this type of breath whenever you feel you need it.
If you have had a stressful day, if you come home upset, if you have an exam coming up or have had a fight with someone, then lie down somewhere quiet and breathe. Start with one or two minutes and work your way up to five or more.
Using this breath when you are upset, angry or confused will help you calm down and bring focus and clarity. To take it one step further, here is another little trick. Before you lay down to practice your breathing, grab a pen and paper and write down whatever is on your mind. Write without trying to understand it all yet, just write all your thoughts or frustrations. This will help clear the chaos of the mind. Then breathe. Practice the breath you just learnt. This combination really helps clear the mind and bring calm.
If nothing else then every night when you jump into bed, take at least three of these deep full breaths. You will feel more calm, and ready for sleep. I still do this every night.
* This breathing technique is part of my book The Key, A Social Emotional Toolkit for Teens and is taught in class rooms as well as individually.