Over here at Peace and Purpose Counseling, April has been deemed “peace month.” As the flowers are blooming and the sun has broken through a long winter, I am thinking about how we can grow more peace in our lives. Each Monday in April’s post will be dedicated to a different, practical way to cultivate peace into the nooks and crannies of our lives.
Sneak peak: This means May will be “purpose month!” Stay tuned.
Today, consider a coping skill that anyone can do at any time, the only qualification is that you must have breath!
Here’s what I love about deep breathing: I am a woman who loves coping skills and self-care. I love to do yoga, paint, talk with friends, take a bath – BUT most of these things cannot be done in the moments we often need them the most. We can not do these activities while stuck in traffic, while in the middle of an argument, while taking a test, while in a work meeting – but we can always do deep breathing.
Through deep breathing we can train our bodies to mimic the way it feels during relaxation and rest. By triggering the relaxation response, our heart rates decrease, our muscles release stored tension, our blood pressures drop, our moods improve, our minds clear, and our levels of nitric oxide are increased.
It is from this more relaxed state that we can make more clear-minded, intentional decisions which can lead to increased long-term peace (and purpose, but we’ll get to that next month) in our lives.
There are many different techniques for incorporating deep breathing practices in our lives. It’s important to try and practice different techniques because different people gravitate toward different practices.
4-7-8 Breathing is a common technique used to lengthen breath. Take a deep, slow breath from your stomach and mentally count to 4 as you inhale. For many of the breathing exercises, we are working on deepening breath from our stomachs. When anxiety and panic sets in, breathing becomes shallow. And even everyday breathing is often shallow, until we make conscious efforts to deepen it. So, it can be helpful to keep one hand on your stomach to feel the rise and fall as you practice these techniques. Hold your breath and mentally count to 7. Then, slowly exhale completely as you mentally count to 8. Repeat this technique about 5-10 times or however long you need it. Take inventory of how you feel mentally, physically, and emotionally after using this technique.
With you index finger, draw a box in the air. As you draw side one, inhale to the count of 4. As you draw side two, hold your breath to the count of 4. As you draw side three, exhale that breath. As you draw side four, pause to the count of 4. Continue as long as you need. This is an easy one to remember, which is what we need when the emotions are running high.
Stuffed Animal Breathing
I love equipping young people with coping skills and resources as early in life as possible. Here’s one way you can teach kids to practice deep breathing. For this exercise, you lay down on your back and place a stuffed animal on your stomach. Inhale and exhale deeply into your stomach and watch the stuff animal go up and down. This helps give an easy visual for deepening breath.
Inhaling and exhaling can be done to the rhythms around you. For instance, taking a nature walk outside and marking your breathing to the footsteps, or to a song that you play.
Progressive relaxation – a personal favorite!
Close your eyes or bring them gently to the floor. Become aware of your breathing, just noticing your inhales and exhales. In this relaxation technique, you will focus on slowly tensing and then relaxing each muscle group. This helps you focus on the difference between muscle tension and relaxation and to make intentional efforts to bring your body to a place of more ease. This practice helps you to become more aware of physical sensations. Begin by tensing as tight as you can all the muscles in your toes and feet. Deep breath and relax – let all the tension release from your feet. Next move onto legs. Tense all the muscles in your legs. Deep breath and relax – let all the tension release from your leg. Next move onto torso. Tense all the muscles in your torso. Deep breath and relax – let all the tension release from your torso. Next move onto arms. Tense all the muscles in your arms. Deep breath and relax – let all the tension release from your arms. Next move onto face and neck. Tense all the muscles in your face and neck. Deep breath and relax – let all the tension release from your face and neck. Do a mental body scan to assess whether there any other areas in your body that feel tense, breathe into them, and relax that area of your body.
Share in the comments what you think! Let me know what you are doing and the changes you have seen as a result. Remember – like most valuable things - it will take consistent practice to seek the most meaningful rewards! Eager to walk this road towards peace with you.