Relaxed breathing is an exercise that combines breathing, imagery and relaxation. It is easy to follow and the benefits will speak for themselves. Anyone who has ever taken a relaxation class will find the process broadly familiar.
I suggest you read through the exercise once. Then, practice the technique with the script available to follow. Then, go solo. This isn’t a rigid set of rules, so feel free to adapt the technique to your own preferences once you have mastered the basics.
You’ll need about 15-20 minutes to work through the basic exercise. Pick a time when you won’t be interrupted. Get comfortable and switch off distractions like the TV. Once you feel more competent you will find the technique is easy to use even in noisy surroundings. At this early stage, less is more.
Begin by placing the palm of your hand just above the waistline of your stomach. Take four or five deep breaths. Feel your stomach area push out a little when you breathe in and feel it go back when you breathe out.
Note: people who suffer with anxiety frequently breathe using just the upper part of their chest and this adds to a sense of constriction. The idea is to fill your lungs rather like filling a bottle from the bottom upwards.
Having taken some deep breaths, continue to breathe in a calm steady fashion. Breathe through your nose, don’t hold your breath and focus on the movements in your stomach as you breathe (your chest should be quite still). Continue in this way for at least a couple of minutes. Take longer if you are adjusting your technique.
Once you have a steady, calm, rhythmic form of breathing established it is time to move to the next step. In order to prevent intrusive thoughts and to maintain your attention on what you are doing and why, thing ‘RE’ when you breathe in and ‘LAX’ as you exhale. Re-Lax. Continue like this for a couple of minutes.
Now start to imagine the word ‘relax’ in your mind. Form a picture of it in big bold letters. Look at and examine each letter for a few seconds, then see the image as a whole, as you continue to breathe deeply and steadily and think of the word ‘Re-Lax’.
As you continue to breathe, think about your legs. Each time you breathe out, feel a little tension leaving your leg and buttock muscles. Continue breathing and thinking about your legs until your legs feel completely relaxed. If you feel any muscular twitches this is quite normal and simply means your muscles are relaxing.
Do exactly the same with your arms, your back, your stomach, your neck and head, spending at least a couple of minutes on each area.
Finally, connect with your whole body. Enjoy the complete sense of relaxation and breathing for a few minutes.
When you are ready to finish the exercise, count slowly backwards from 5 and with each number start to become more alert and refreshed.
This concludes the basic instructions. If, for example, you suffer with lower back pain, adapt the technique to spend longer focused on this area. There are no rules as to how often you should use this technique but many people set aside a few minutes each day and feel great benefit.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.