If you’ve been following these articles and practicing the skills discussed in parts 1 and 2, you should be fairly comfortable with basic deep breathing and may feel ready to move on to some new techniques. If you haven’t read part 1 and part 2 of this series, I’d suggest you do so before continuing by following the links below:
In this final entry of my Deep Breathing series, I’m going to go into detail on 2 more skills to incorporate into your deep breathing practice, and at the end I will recommend some more advanced techniques to study further for those that are interested. As always, take your time in learning and mastering these new strategies, and make sure your feel comfortable with your basic skills before taking on more challenging techniques.
Once you've mastered deep breathing through the techniques outlined above, you can add what are called mantras to your breathing exercises to advance the mental and physical health benefits of deep breathing. Mantras are short phrases usually targeted at eliciting a certain feeling or result, such as calmness, relaxation, or even increased motivation. You can use this technique during breathing exercises to either help enhance the relaxation of the exercise or train your mind to achieve a certain goal. The effects of this practice can be similar to self-hypnosis. Remember, breathing can be a bridge between the conscious and unconscious mind. Deep breathing exercises can actually help put you into a mild hypnotic state (that is, a state of heightened suggestibility), and repeating mantras during this state could help to imprint their intention onto your subconscious. My favorite way of incorporating mantras into deep breathing involves developing 2 phrases and either mentally or verbally repeating one on the inhale and one on the exhale. Here are a few examples of how this works:
Start with a few minutes of deep breathing using one of the counting exercises from part 2 of this series to help you get into a relaxed state. Repeat the following phrases as you breathe, "I am here; I am calm." "I am here" should be said (again, either mentally or verbally depending on your preference) during the inhale, and "I am calm" during the exhale. Repeat every time you breathe in and out. This is a very popular breathing mantra for increasing relaxation and promoting a better here-and-now focus.
This next exercise is an example of how to use deep breathing mantras to help increase motivation. The structure is exactly the same as the previous exercise, but you replace the mantra with "I am strong; I will succeed." This type of mantra could be useful immediately before an important event, such as a competition or exam. Excessive anxiety and nervousness can impede both mental and physical performance, so using such a mantra can help not only alleviate stress in the moment, but increase confidence and motivation to accomplish your goals.
You can also use mantra breathing to help change behaviors over longer periods of time. Doing this means developing your own mantras which target specific personal changes you'd like to make, and applying them to your breathing exercises as outlined above. Let's say you want to quit smoking, practice using a mantra such as "I don't want to smoke; I don't need to smoke." It's simple, but it targets the 2 important aspects of giving up such a habit, both the desire to quit and the belief that you can quit.
You can use visualization during breathing exercises as another way to improve health, stress and motivation. Visualization involves mentally picturing a desired state or outcome during your breathing exercises. For example, picturing yourself graduating from college to help reduce the anxiety about a big test you have coming up, or visualizing what it would be like to achieve your life goals to improve your motivation to continue working hard. I'm going to share one specific exercise related to visualization, as it's fairly easy to perform and can help to enhance the mental and physical health benefits of deep breathing.
Start with the deep breathing exercise of your choice to get you into a relaxed state. Make sure your eyes are closed as you proceed with your visualization. As you inhale, imagine you are breathing in pure health, vitality, and tranquility in the form of a bright healing light. Envision it feeling warm and comforting as it enters your lungs, and try to feel it radiating throughout your body. As you exhale, imagine yourself blowing out a cold black smoke that represents all of your stress, negativity, and physical ailments. Try to feel a little lighter each time you exhale all of the negative things you are trying to purge yourself of. This technique takes practice, but it is very powerful once you learn to use it effectively. You can even use it to target specific ailments; for example, if you have pain in a certain area of your body, imagine inhaling the healing light and directing it to soothe your pain, and as you exhale the black smoke imagine it as being the pain and/or sickness leaving your body.
There are other techniques that I wanted to mention related to deep breathing that would be too involved to outline in this series of articles. If you enjoy deep breathing exercises and want to learn more, I'd encourage you to look into some of the following practices. 7 cups has excellent resources on many of these skills for it’s members. All of these advanced strategies require you to have a firm understanding of deep breathing and breath control, so make sure you practice and master some of the skills I’ve reviewed before moving on.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR): Practice of systematically tensing and releasing muscles to enhance relaxation and stress reduction.
- Guided imagery: Using visualization scripts or recordings to envision relaxing or motivational scenarios (a way to take the visualization skills from this article to the next level).
- Mindfulness Meditation: Style of mediation that focuses on awareness and acceptance of what is happening in the moment. Often incorporates deep breathing skills into the practice and utilizes breathing as an, “anchor.”
Scott Fantucchio, LMHC