Relaxation techniques are possibly the most common strategies to be used in psychological interventions. They’re employed in many different ways and there are few situations in which they can’t be used. In this article, we’re going to explain some of the most popular breathing techniques, more particularly the kinds aimed at those of us who don’t know how to relax.
Relaxation techniques originated in Eastern culture and are linked to Hindu techniques that, through meditation, seek to achieve states that allow contemplation, wisdom, mental calm, and body relaxation, together with respiratory control.
“It was only from an inner calm that man was able to discover and shape calm surroundings.”
Regardless of which technique you choose, there are a number of general recommendations :
- Wear comfortable clothes and find a suitable place to carry out the exercises.
- Make sure you’re clear about the instructions.
- Practice in a calm environment.
- Adopt a passive and receptive attitude.
- Commit yourself. Motivation is key.
- Limit any distracting stimuli before you begin.
When you reach a state of relaxation, you’ll experience calm, deep, and rhythmic breathing. You’ll notice your muscles relaxing and you may feel sensations of heat. You’ll also observe the beat of your heart as being more rhythmic and softer. Your anxiety levels will drop and your perception of your body will improve. In short, you’ll notice a sense of peace and mental balance.
“Calm mind brings inner strength and self-confidence, so that’s very important for good health.”
Simple breathing techniques
There are many different breathing techniques that can help you relax. We’re going to look at some of the simplest, so you can use them in your daily routine.
1. Deep breathing
Although deep breathing can be practiced in many positions, we recommend that you first sit on the floor, with your back straight and your legs extended.
Now, scan your body. Look for signs of tension. Place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest. Inhale, slowly and deeply through your nose. Bring the air into your abdomen and you’ll notice how your chest moves a little. Exhale through your mouth.
Smile and breathe in again through your nose and out through your mouth. Make a soft, relaxing noise, like the sound of the wind, when you exhale. This will relax your mouth and tongue. Take long, slow, deep breaths that raise and lower your abdomen. Focus your attention on the sound you’re making.
Do this exercise for five to ten minutes, once or twice a day, for several weeks. When you’ve finished the exercise, take some time to explore your body. Compare the tension in your relaxed body to the tension in your body before you began to relax.
2. Breathing for pain (acute and chronic)
In this type of breathing, you form a mental schema of the process before starting it. First, put one hand on your solar plexus and direct the other toward the point of your body where you feel pain. Start taking long, slow, deep breaths.
Visualize that with each inhalation of air, an amount of energy enters your lungs and that they’ve immediately stored it in your solar plexus. Now, imagine that when you exhale, this energy streams out to all parts of your body.
Envisage that, as you breathe, energy is flowing to the point in your body where you feel pain. Breathe in more energy, and when you breathe it out, imagine that the energy pushes away the pain.
“Remain calm, serene, always in command of yourself. You will then find out how easy it is to get along.”
3. Alternate-nostril breathing
To practice alternate-nostril breathing:
- Get into a comfortable and relaxed position.
- Place your thumb on your right nostril and your ring and middle fingers on your left.
- Block your right nostril with your thumb and inhale slowly and calmly with your left.
- Block your left nostril with your thumb.
- Exhale through your right nostril.
- Hold your breath for a few seconds. Breathe in through your right nostril.
- When you want to exhale, do it through your left nostril.
Sometimes, relaxation and breathing exercises appear to be rather complicated. However, with constant practice, you’ll learn how to perform them correctly. Then, you’ll be able to relax at any time.
4. Methods of self-regulation of breathing
You probably already have these methods incorporated into your daily breathing. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to train them so that you can put them into practice when you need them most:
- Breathing through yawning. Yawns produce a deep contraction of the diaphragm, which leads to a large exchange of air. With a massive inhalation of air, yawning balances respiratory efficiency.
- Sighing. These are slow, quiet inhalations of air, followed by a sudden, noisy exhalation.
- Abdominal breathing. When you breathe, move only your abdomen and try to make the muscles of your chest and your collarbones move as little as possible.
- Intercostal or middle breathing. Direct the air to the middle part of your chest. It favors the mobility of the intercostal and thoracic muscles.
- 4×4 Breathing. This is probably the most widely used breathing method. Exhale deeply for a count of four. Hold your breath for another four. Then, exhale for a count of four. The ‘fours’ can be whatever you want: seconds, taps of your fingers on your body, or beats of your heart. Practice this exercise twice, at different times throughout the day.
“I love to have a bath with beautiful relaxing music on and have no rush to do anything. It’s a wonderful indulgence, and it helps me to calm down and stop my mind running overtime.”
In addition to these relaxation exercises, there are others, such as Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation and Schultz’s autogenic training.
The benefits of breathing techniques
Breathing is perhaps one of the most effective means you have control over to influence your body’s arousal levels. When you feel anxious, you’re incorporating more oxygen into your body than you need. To counteract this excess, your body tries to breathe more and you hyperventilate. Thus, your heart accelerates and you enter a loop of anxiety, hyperventilation, and tachycardia. An effective way to break this cycle is to gain conscious control of your breathing for a few moments.
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