One of the jokes common in the Solutions office is “have you practiced breathing?” to which you can imagine the replies by teens. And we do joke about it because it is funny, and let’s face it, if therapy is funny, that makes it so much more fun. But on a serious note, breathing can be a very effective tool with regards to mental health and more specifically, anxiety and PTSD. Clients will sometimes realize that they hold their breath and I’ve known some who do it regularly and don’t even notice. Anyone in the room can hear the “gasp,” which is actually them exhaling, but it has become such a habit, that the person doing it doesn’t even realize. When we can learn different breathing exercises, we can learn to not only relax, but also to raise our energy.
Breathing techniques are used in yoga, meditation, biofeedback, and plain old “breathing exercises.” One technique I was recently introduced to is breathing in one nostril and out the other, then switching. This technique is used to stimulate one side of the brain, the other, or both to increase activity. It can be used to balance both sides of the brain as well.
Counting our breaths, breathing in on a count of x and out on a count of x, focusing on the feeling of the breath, and visualizing different ways of breathing are all researched modes of breathing that can affect how we feel. Breathing exercises have been proven to decrease symptoms of mental health issues.
Okay, so there is the info that it’s good for you, but what the heck should you do? One of the techniques Solutions Counseling and Wellness Center uses is Heartbreathing by HeartMath, our biofeedback program. Here it is in a nutshell.
Step one, focus on the area of your chest where your heart is.
Step two, imagine that you are breathing in and out of your heart and slow your breathing slightly while keeping it at a comfortable pace.
Step three, focus on a thought or emotion of joy.
Do this for a couple of minutes and assess how you feel. While this may seem simplistic, and is, it can be a tool that can be used at any time to relax the mind and body.