Thursday, April 19, 2012

Just breathe

I'm shocked every time I meet someone who didn't know how to breathe.

I mean, they know how to breathe, or they'd be dead. But if they try to take a deep breath, their belly tenses and their shoulders go up. They don't know how to breathe to their best advantage.

I was taught to breathe properly by everyone from my choir director to my gynecologist. But I keep meeting people at the psych hospital who don't know how to slow down and deepen their breathing. Which is pretty much the first skill anyone with a mental illness should learn, because your breath is the quickest and easiest way to adjust your stress response. Psychiatrists have a bad rap for pushing meds at the expense of other methods, but I love that the doctor on my team makes patients practice deep breathing.

If you've gotten this far in your life without learning deep breathing, do it now. It is your best tool against everything from rage to stage fright.

When you take in air, your belly should expand. (It's not really your belly muscles that are working, but your diaphragm below your lungs.) If you put your hand on your belly, you should be able to feel the expansion as you breathe in. Your chest will also be expanding, but focus on the diaphragm area.

Now slow it down. Make your exhale last for a count of 10.

Try it for thirty seconds. You can do one, or a couple, whenever you need them.

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