Breathing affects and reflects the level of tension in your body and mind. When tense, your breathing will become shallow, with more rapid movement in the higher region of your chest. On the other hand, if you inhale and exhale from a relaxed abdomen, emotional and mental arousal will ease, and you will feel a sense of calmness that is both psychological and physiological. You can use slow abdominal breathing whenever you feel the need for controlling stress, when you can no longer function comfortably in the midst of tension and distressing thoughts, and when you want to feel greater calm and maintain a clear focus. This technique, although seemingly simple, usually takes practice until it feels more natural and less awkward.
To begin, you may sit or lie in any position that allows you to relax your body. Fully but gently close your eyes or focus your partially closed eyes on a small immobile object. Take a deep cleansing breath and “sigh” out through your mouth. With the palm side of one hand resting easily against your chest and the other lightly on your abdomen, breathe deliberately, comfortably, and rhythmically, inhaling and exhaling through your nose, or, if more natural, exhaling through your mouth. You will begin to notice, as your breathing becomes relaxed and rhythmic, that the hand resting against your abdomen is moving in synchrony with your in-breath and out-breath, while the hand on your chest seems almost motionless.
Please note that there is no one right way to practice RAB. The only right way is the way that works for you – that helps you feel more relaxed and easy. Some people find counting while breathing helps them attain an easy rhythm, but others find counting difficult or tension producing. If you choose the counting technique, one suggestion is to inhale while counting slowly to four, pause momentarily, and then slowly exhale to the count of four or five. (Others suggest eliminating any pause since this might be tension producing. Therefore, experiment with and without a brief pause to determine whether helpful or not. The primary objective of this technique, of course, is to help you elicit a calm and relaxed state so any aspect that interferes with these calmer sensations should be avoided.) Repeat the slow inhale-pause-exhale-pause sequence – or any calming inhalation-exhalation pattern – for 10 cycles. As you practice regularly, you will find a comfortable rhythm and will discover that this technique becomes easier.
(Tip: For a different focused breathing, you might observe whether your body feels cooler or warmer as your breathing becomes more relaxed and smoothly rhythmic, or whether your body seems lighter or heavier.)
By now, your breathing may feel slower, your body more comfortably heavy and facial muscles more relaxed. After cycling through this, you might move on to a different, personally preferred method of eliciting the relaxation response (guided imagery, mindfulness or focused meditation, etc.). Whichever way you can produce a felt sense of greater ease, the most important advice is making this a daily routine!
By Penny Block, PhD