A common response to pain and stress is to gasp for air (hyperventilate) or to simply stop breathing well (taking in very short, shallow breaths). Unfortunately, this response will only evoke more anxiety and will not help us calm down so we can approach the issue at hand with good, rational thinking.
Before getting caught in a stressful situation, it is helpful to practice breathing deeply on a regular basis. Deep breathing is relaxing yet energizing. It helps calm the mind by focusing on the breath.
Intentionally paying attention to your breath on a regular basis will teach you how to have more control over your mind. You may think, “I just can’t stop my mind from going.” This may be true to a certain extent. However, if you build your skill of paying attention, you will find that you have more control over when to think and what to think than you previously thought.
Breathing changes with our varying degrees of mental or physical stress. If we consciously change how we are breathing, that change will affect our state of being.
Mental stress and muscular tension increase pain. Deep breathing effectively lessons the stress and mental tension, thereby helping to relieve pain. This is one reason why deep breathing is often suggested to patients experiencing painful ailments.
To effectively breathe deeply, inhale very slowly and try to make the inhalation last as long as possible. Do the same on the exhalation. Pay attention to where you feel the breath travel in your body. Do you feel it in your throat, your chest, and or your belly? What part of your body rises and falls with each breath? Is it your shoulders, your chest, or your belly?
Ideally, we should use our diaphragm to draw the breath in, but many of us use muscles in our shoulders and chest to draw the air in. These muscles were designed to be the secondary group of muscles to help draw in the breath, not the primary ones.
After you take note of your breathing habits, sit up tall or stand, place your hands on your belly, and practice breathing into it.
Imagine the oxygen traveling through the center of your throat and under your sternum, without raising it, and into your lower abdomen, which will expand as the diaphragm draws the air in.
As you exhale slowly, imagine the air traveling up from the belly, through the back of the throat, and out of the nose.
As you practice this, make a sound that suggests the ocean, as if you were fogging up a mirror.
Breathe in for four counts, pause for a moment, and then breathe out for four counts. Pause again before inhaling again.
Practice this for 5 to 10 minutes. Notice how your state of mind is when you have completed this simple breathing meditation.
Once you are comfortable with this, toy with breathing into various areas of your body. For example, as you stretch a muscle, begin to breathe deeply. As you breathe, imagine that there are lungs in the muscle you are stretching. Breathe into those lungs.
Notice how this affects your stretch. Does it help relieve the pain from the stretch? Does it help deepen your stretch?
You may use this technique if suffering from an injury or pain. After breathing into the painful area, notice how it helps.