You may have heard about taking deep breaths and counting to ten when you’re angry or stressed. You may also have been told “just breathe” when you get anxious or overwhelmed. Mindful breathing has many forms and expressions in our culture.
However, despite what many people say about the benefits of breathing intentionally, many don’t do it correctly.
Intentional breathing involves filling lungs to capacity and then emptying the lungs fully.
Below, we’re going to give you a 7-step process to do it properly. Then we’ll explain the science behind why it works.
How to Breathe Intentionally
1) Sit comfortably and breathe naturally. Start to observe your breath and where in your body it is flowing and filling.
2) Put one hand on top of your chest, on your breastbone, and the other hand right below your belly button on your stomach. Try to notice which area you seem to be breathing into. Continue for a cycle of about 10 breaths.
3) Focus on breathing in your chest. What things to do you notice when you’re doing this? Observe this for 10 to 20 breath cycles and then start breathing normally again.
4) Focus on breathing into your belly. What do you notice about your breath when you’re doing this? How do you feel? Keep doing this for about 10 to 20 breath cycles then breath normally for a few cycles.
5) Take a half inhale into your chest, then breath the rest into your belly. Notice how this feels and observe the sensations. Do this for a cycle of 10 to 20 breaths then breathe normally for a few cycles.
6) Fill both areas with air. Take deep breaths and feel both of your hands move as you fill these spaces with your breath. See if you can slow the exhale to be longer than the inhale. Do this for a cycle of 10 to 20 breaths, then return to normal breathing.
7) Reflect on how that felt physically, emotionally, and energetically.
How this practice can help to reduce stress
Intentional breathing techniques activate the parasympathetic nervous system which helps to start a relaxation response in the body. This slows your heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and slows breathing. By doing all of these things, your body can carry out repairing and restoring functions.
Some find this breathing exercise to be challenging, because of overactive or anxious minds.
It may help to say a word as you breath, like “in” for inhales, and “out” for exhales, just to stay engaged and in the moment.
Even if you find it difficult, you can practice this anywhere because it is quiet and just requires you to be present.
By practicing intentional breathing, you can give yourself a few moments of relaxation and focus which can shift your breath and help you to breathe deeply all the time. This can help you to take the first step to relax your body and reduce stress.