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Tips For Breathing Deeply
Dr. Dale V. Atkins, December 2012

When we are in the middle of a stressful situation it is nearly impossible to maintain objectivity. We try to focus and get something done, and yet, sometimes, we are totally ineffective; we cannot move or think or reason. It is difficult to be clear or have access to insight when stress overwhelms us. We just don't have perspective; we are too close to the edge.

Each of us can become better at staying away from the "the edge". Admittedly, it is difficult to focus on what works and what doesn't when we are feeling anxious or fearful about a particular outcome. We become aware of our breath, but likely our breath is shallow, adding to the increase in anxiety. Ironically, that is just the time to rely on our breath to help calm us and return us to balance.

When we begin to be conscious of the flow of our breath we become aware of how our breath shapes the energy patterns within us. So the most important step is to just be aware. We can "watch" our breath in our "mind's eye." We can notice and observe our breath without judgment; noticing the lengths of our inhalations and exhalations, what is our "natural" rhythm, when and how do we hold tension, and what causes our breathing patterns to change.

We can learn to breathe differently and we can do it anywhere; indoors, outdoors, walking, standing, sitting, lying down - it does not matter. What matters is that we are relaxing into our breath and are aware of it.

We need to appreciate how important it is to slow down. Even when we have many matters to deal with, approaching things thoughtfully and slowly, one at a time, helps immeasurably. We are better able to see the issues we need to deal with more clearly as well as become more creative in our problem solving.

One way to do this is to breathe deeply. There are many different ways to breathe for improved health and well-being. It is possible for each of us to find the right "breathing style" that is most effective at a particular time and in a particular situation. We can each "learn how to breath".

Listed below are some examples of breathing for relaxation as well as for increased energy and focus. Practice breathing in one of these ways several times a day and notice the changes you feel.

Diaphragmatic Breathing. - Many of us who sing or practice Yoga have been exposed to "diaphragmatic breathing," which is best learned in a relaxed, comfortable position. We need to see ourselves relaxed and we release tension that we are aware of by loosening our necks, shoulders. As we breathe in, the lower part of the rib cage and the abdomen should expand, and with our exhalation, the lower edge of the rib cage and the abdomen "deflate". It can be helpful to lightly place the palm of the hand on the lower abdomen to feel it rise as we inhale and fall as we exhale.

Bellows. - Sit up straight. With your mouth closed, rapidly inhale and exhale. After 10 breaths, inhale once as deeply as possible, hold for two seconds or longer, then exhale slowly. Rest for five normal breaths and begin again, doing a total of three rounds.

Paced Breathing. - Inhale for six seconds, then exhale for six. If that's not comfortable, begin with shorter breaths and work up to six seconds. Start with a short period - five minutes - and increase your time.

Alternate-nostril Breathing. - Close your eyes and sit up straight. Hold your right nostril closed with one finger of your left hand, inhaling through your left nostril. Pause briefly and close your left nostril with the thumb of your left hand, releasing your first finger to exhale through your right nostril. Inhale through the right, then switch thumb and finger again to exhale through the left. Start with 5 minutes and build up.

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