In part one of this series, I discussed the basics of deep breathing and reviewed abdominal breathing, the foundation of all other deep breathing exercises. If you haven’t read Deep Breathing for Mental and Physical Self-Improvement (Part 1), I’d suggest you do so before continuing.
Once you've got a firm grasp on abdominal breathing, you can move on to other techniques to enhance the health benefits of deep breathing.
Many breathing techniques revolve around some type of counting system to get you started. When your goal is relaxation, stress reduction, and better overall health, you generally want to focus on slowing down the pace of your breathing to start.
Here's a really simple exercise to start with. Get into position and start doing your abdominal breathing. Once you get into a good rhythm, start counting how many seconds it takes to inhale and then exhale. See if you can figure out an average for your normal breathing pace, let's say for example its 4 seconds to inhale and 4 seconds to exhale. All you do now is focus on increasing the number of seconds it takes to breathe in and then out. Don't rush yourself, start by aiming for 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out. Once you're able to maintain this pace for 5-10 minutes at a time, try 6 seconds in and six seconds out. Spread out the increases as much as you feel comfortable with. You can choose to increase by 1 second every day, every week, or even every month depending on your physical ability and comfort level. You might progress quickly or slowly, everyone is different.
Another simple counting exercise is to count the number of breaths you take in a minute. For this, you'll probably need some type of alarm or timer to make sure you are accurately counting in 1 minute increments. Just like the last exercise, you want to start by establishing your baseline. Start your abdominal breathing, and then set your timer to go off in 1 minute. Simply sit and count the number of breaths you take in a minute (1 breath = 1 inhale and 1 exhale). Let's say you start with 10 breaths per minute, you want to then focus on decreasing the number of breaths you take to 9 per minute. Just like with the last exercise, take your time. Decrease the number of breaths you take per minute at a pace you are comfortable with.
The final basic counting method I'll discuss is what's called tactical breathing. Tactical breathing is a breathing technique primarily used by people in high stress careers such as law enforcement, the military, and emergency services. They use this technique because it helps reduce stress in moments of extremely high tension. Though an adrenaline response is a good thing for a policeman, soldier, or firefighter to have in a moment of crisis, it also has to be controlled in order for them to make the right decisions and act accordingly. Tactical breathing can also be an effective exercise for anyone looking to have a technique to use in moments of extreme stress or panic in their own lives. The main difference between tactical breathing and the other breathing exercises I have reviewed is it includes holding your breath. Deep breathing typically involves a steady flow between inhales and exhales, but tactical breathing includes breath holds between every inhale and every exhale. Here's how it goes: Take a deep breath in for a count of 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, exhale for a count of 4 seconds, hold your breath for another 4 seconds, and then repeat. I'd recommend starting with some of the other breathing exercises I mentioned in order to improve your lung capacity before trying this. If you can't do counts of 4, start where you are comfortable and work your way up. Though the official method uses 4 second counts, there is nothing saying you can't try to increase the counts over time, just be careful that when doing the breath holds you don't start to feel dizzy, light headed, or panicked. If done right and mastered over time, this practice can help slow your heart rate and decrease anxiety in moments of high stress.
In part 3, the final part of this series, I’ll be discussing 2 more advanced breathing techniques to add to your arsenal. Until then, keep practicing your abdominal breathing and work on adding counting techniques to strengthen your breathing skills.
Scott Fantucchio, LMHC