In a Counselling Session, it’s common for me to remind my clients to breathe. So why do I do that? How does it help? And what kind of breathing should I be doing?

The Science

This is where I think it helps to go back quickly to the science and consider what we know about how our breathe links to a bodily response.

Deep breathing techniques work by stimulating the Parasympathetic Nervous System. This system is basically the opposite of our Sympathetic Nervous System which is our Fight or Flight response. So instead of getting you ready for action, deep breathing activates a bodily response that enables us to rest and digest. It is our body’s way of reducing anxiety and controlling our stress levels.

Out-breaths are the key

The critical thing here to understand is that the out-breaths are the bit that stimulates the Parasympathetic System response. Our out-breaths lower our blood pressure, dilate our pupils, and slow our heart rate which all lower our emotional arousal.

So it makes sense to use a technique where the out-breath is longer than the in-breath. When people say ‘take a deep breath’ the helpful part of this is really that it forces you to naturally also take a longer out-breath!

7-11 Breathing Technique

The breathing method that I find easiest is the 7-11 breathing technique.

It’s as simple as this:
– Breathe in for a count of 7
– Breathe out for a count of 11
– Keep going for 5 to 10 minutes

Make sure that when you breathe in that you are breathing in deeply, using your diaphragm muscles, rather than breathing in shallowly. This will help you to get the maximum benefit.

If you are new to this technique and breathing for a count or 7 or 11 is too long for you, you can reduce it to say, 3 and 5 at first. Just remember that the aim is to breathe out for longer than you breathe in.

You will start to notice the calming effect on your mind and body. The counting to 7 and 11 is also a great ‘mindful’ distraction away from your immediate problems.

So, as simple as that, here is a simple mindful breathing exercise that you can try at home.
For young children who are anxious, getting them to play with blowing out bubbles can be a brilliant way of getting them to breathe out more than they breathe in. Without knowing it, they will be activating their Parasympathetic Nervous System which will help them to feel emotionally more regulated.

Photo credit: Photo by Guillermo Velarde on Unsplash

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