Abdominal Breathing for Reduced Anxiety
The Benefits of Abdominal Breathing
Abdominal breathing is also known as diaphragmatic breathing. The diaphragm is a large muscle located between the chest and the abdomen. When it contracts it is forced downward causing the abdomen to expand. This causes a negative pressure within the chest forcing air into the lungs. The negative pressure also pulls blood into the chest improving the venous return to the heart. This leads to improved stamina in both disease and athletic activity. Like blood, the flow of lymph, which is rich in immune cells, is also improved. By expanding the lung's air pockets and improving the flow of blood and lymph, abdominal breathing also helps prevent infection of the lung and other tissues. But most of all it is an excellent tool to stimulate the relaxation response that results in less tension and an overall sense of well being.
Abdominal Breathing Technique
Breathing exercises such as this one should be done twice a day or whenever you find your mind dwelling on upsetting thoughts or when you are experiencing pain.
Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. When you take a deep breath in, the hand on the abdomen should rise higher than the one on the chest. This insures that the diaphragm is pulling air into the bases of the lungs.
- After exhaling through the mouth (like a heavy sigh) take a slow deep breath in through your nose imagining that you are sucking in all the air in the room and hold it as long as you are comfortably able.
- Slowly exhale through your mouth. As all the air is released with relaxation, gently contract your abdominal muscles to completely evacuate the remaining air from the lungs. It is important to remember that we deepen respirations not by inhaling more air but through completely exhaling it.
- Repeat the cycle four more times for a total of 5 deep breaths.
- Keep our focus on your breath bot on the inhale and the exhale.
Once you feel comfortable with the above technique, you may want to incorporate words that can enhance the exercise. Examples would be to say to yourself the word, relaxation (with inhalation) and stress or anger (with exhalation). I will often use the words "Let go". The idea being to bring in the feeling/emotion you want with inhalation and release those you don't want with exhalation.
In general, exhalation should be twice as long as inhalation, but do not make this your primary focus. The use of the hands on the chest and abdomen are only needed to help you train your breathing. Once you feel comfortable with your ability to breathe into the abdomen, they are no longer needed.
Abdominal breathing is just one of many breathing exercises. But it is the most important one to learn before exploring other techniques. The more it is practiced, the more natural it will become improving the body's internal rhythm.
Mindfullness to Reduce Stress and Increase Focus
Mindfulness meditation can be done in a variety of ways including for brief periods of time as short as a minute or so.
1) A basic mindfulness exercise consists of three simple steps. First, bring your attention to ‘something in particular’ such as your breath. Secondly, notice when a distraction occurs (perhaps just a thought), acknowledge it and then let go of the distraction or dismiss the thought. Say to yourself ‘Not now’. And thirdly, bring your attention back to the “attentional anchor” you chose such as your breathe. Do this sequence over and over during the course of the meditation practice.
2) Start small with an awareness of breath exercise. Try sitting quietly with eyes closed and pay attention to your breath. Notice how your nose, throat and lungs feel each time you inhale and then as you exhale. Any time you realize you are not paying attention to your breath, just bring your attention back to your breath. Do this for thirty seconds to one minute until you feel comfortable doing it. Then go up to five minutes daily for a week. Then increase the time to ten minutes daily for a week.