• Dr. Carolyn Frost

How (and Why!) To Take a Deep Breath

Updated: Apr 10

 

"Being aware of your breath forces you into the present moment - the key to all inner transformation." - Eckhart Tolle



Even a single conscious breath has the incredible power to:


* Anchor you to the present moment.

* Enhance body awareness.

* Reduce anxious thoughts and feelings by getting you out of your head and bringing the attention into your body.

* Connect your body and mind so you are closer in touch with emotions and sensations.

* Purposely bring on calm and relaxation.

* Help you intentionally respond rather than habitually react.

* Even the space of a single breath can provide a much needed pause to consider a different way forward.

* Reaffirm that you are in control of your thoughts, feelings and physical body.


And so, we take it one single, conscious breath at a time.


Eventually we begin to string mindful breaths together so they become 2 and then 3, and maybe 5 or 6+ in a row.


We keep coming back, consistently and without judgment.


THIS is how you build mindful attention, and encourage calm and ease in your body.


Creating physical ease tells your mind everything is ok; you can relax, you can soften.


This is the kind of practice we need more of in our everyday lives.


Best part?


It takes almost no time, you can do it anywhere, it's free, it's incredibly efficient, serves a deeper purpose and is ALWAYS available to you.


We practice now when things are calm, so that you can easily fall into it's comfort when things are not.


 


BREATHING IS AUTOMATIC

AND

YOU CAN CONTROL IT


 


How cool is breathing?


IT'S AUTOMATIC.


You breathe automatically (involuntary respiration) without having to think about it at all; thanks to your upper brainstem which includes the Medulla and the Pons. Other automatic functions like heart rhythm and blood flow are also regulated here.


This comes in VERY handy when you are doing literally anything that doesn't involve focusing on breathing and staying alive ;)


YOU CAN ALSO CONTROL IT.


You also get to be in charge of your breath (voluntary respiration); breathing on purpose and in any way you like.


This comes in VERY handy when:


* You're trying to gather your thoughts before speaking

* When you are checking in with yourself

* When you feel anxious feelings coming up

* You are trying not to yell at your kids when they are fighting with each other, whining, making a mess, not eating the dinner they just asked for, getting in trouble at school, moving too slowly, wearing an inappropriate outfit and you're already 5 minutes late, and/or doing any of the 3,000 things that kids do that drive us crazy

* When your mind is racing and you want to slow it down

* When you pause during a meal to check in and see if you're still hungry

* When you can't fall asleep

* When you are making an important decision

* When you first wake up in the morning

* When you are walking in nature, riding a bike, doing a yoga class or lifting weights

* Doing absolutely anything


So many opportunities in our day to slow it down with a single deep breath.

And yet.... do you ever feel like you're not getting it, or not doing it quite right?


Or that you aren't getting the relief or calm you were hoping for?


If that's the case, you are in good company.


Awareness that your breath is even something within your control is an excellent first step.


It has taken me a long time to internalize the feeling of, and get the hang of, taking a full deep breath that calms my body.


Before I learned how to properly take a full breath (yes, we need to learn it!), if I wanted to relax or get some perspective, I would open my mouth nice and wide, and take a shallow breath right into my chest.


I thought I was taking a deep breath. But I never got the relief or sense of space I was hoping for.


These are the TWO BIGGEST MISTAKES people make when taking a deep breath.


Mistake # 1. Breathing in and out of your mouth activates the sympathetic nervous system (remember Fight, Flight or Freeze?) and is a direct route to agitating your nervous system.


Mistake # 2. Breathing only into your chest - we forget that we have a whole entire torso that we get to fill up with air!


Hang in there if you don't get it yet, or even if you've never tried before.


With a little practice, you'll be taking deep, calming, belly breaths in no time!


 


* HOW TO TAKE A FULL DEEP BREATH *



 

CHECK OUT THE VIDEO HERE!!


We sometimes call a full breath, a diaphragmatic breath - which is just a fancy way of saying a full breath way down into your belly.


Physically we are pulling the diaphragm down on the inhale to let more oxygen in, and then pushing it up to fully exhale all of the air out.


We think, "I obviously know how to breathe", but truthfully, most of us don't know how to properly take charge of the breath.


Our work is to breathe in and out through the nose and get the breath way down into the low belly.


Here's how!



Step 1: Sit Comfortably


Sense the parts of your body that touch the support below you. Give yourself time to settle in.


** PRO TIP!! Try it lying down too. How does it feel different? Is it easier to sense the breath in one position than the other? Everyone is different, what works best for YOU?


Step 2: Notice Your Breath

Place one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly.

Bring awareness to how the breath feels and moves through your body, without doing anything to change it. Just take a few rounds of natural inhales and exhales.

** PRO TIP!! Ask a family member to lie down and watch them breathe naturally for a few cycles of breath. Then ask them to try the full deep breath. See what you notice as they deepen the breath.


Step 3: Breathe In and Out of Your Nose

If you're not already, begin breathing in and out of your nose (if possible). Nose breathing filters the air as it comes in, and is protective against dry mouth and bad breath. It's also closely associated with the relaxation response that tells your body, it's ok to relax.

Take a few rounds like this and notice how you feel.

** PRO TIP!! It's completely normal to feel weird or awkward here, or even to feel like you're forcing the breath. Especially if you're new to a breathing practice. Keep going. It will become more and more natural every time.


Step 4: Deepen the Breath

Bring mindful attention to the hand on your low belly. Here is the KEY. We're trying to get the breath to move that hand as it fills up with fresh oxygen. That's ensuring that we're getting the breath way down into the belly where we want it.

Now bring your attention to the hand on your heart; sense how the chest expands with your inhales and contracts with your exhales.

** PRO TIP!! It might seem counterintuitive, but we inhale from the bottom up and exhale from the top down. So first the belly fills, broaden through the ribcage, and then finally the chest expands. When we breathe out, first the chest deflates, then the ribs move toward one another and then finally the belly pulls in. It gets easier with practice, I promise ;)


Step 5: Come back to this REGULARLY

Start small. Even a single mindful breath can help.

Begin to string these mindful breaths together. Every time you wake up. When you come to a red light while driving. When you sit down at your desk.

This is how you create mindful habits.

 


"You cannot breathe deeply and worry at the same time"


- Sonia Choquette



 

Recap!


Conscious breathing is a powerful mind body connector.


Your breath is always with you, making it the perfect tool to bring you back to the present moment.


The more you practice, the more it becomes second nature.


And it will be available the next time you need it.

* When the kids are blasting It's Raining Tacos.... again.


* When your boss forgets that you have an actual life outside of work.


* When you spill your morning coffee on your brand new shirt.


And also.....


* When you see a beautiful sunset and want to take a mental picture.


* When you check on the kids at night and their little angelic faces are just too beautiful to handle.


* When life hands you an unexpected freebie - good news from the doctor, the close call while you're driving, bumping into an old friend at just the right time.



When we slow it down with mindful breathing in this way, we get to RESPOND with thoughtfulness and care, rather than REACT with our habitual negativity/anger/judgment etc...


What a beautiful difference a few (deep) breaths can make.













Try a YOGA BREAK VIDEO today - they're all under 20 minutes so you can turn on that relaxation response whenever you need!


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