Belly breathing is a wonderful grounding exercise to reduce anxiety.
The opposite action would be chest breathing, which is often shallow and rapid. Think about your last visit to the gym when you were out of breath. You were likely chest breathing. This is activating and stimulates the fight, flight, or freeze nervous system (sympathetic).
Belly breathing, on the other hand, stimulates the rest and digest nervous system (parasympathetic). Simply breathing into a different part of your body can signal to your brain that “everything is going to be okay.” This is a wonderful example of our minds and bodies are being connected.
How to Belly Breathe
Find a comfortable position either seated or lying down. If you are feeling particularly activated, try noticing your surroundings via sight, sound, and smell. What do you see? Who do you hear? What do you smell? Then, notice what you feel. Feel your body connected with your chair or couch. Feel where your hands are resting. Using all of your senses is a great way to drop into the present.
Once you’ve arrived mentally, place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Notice which hand is lifting. Maybe it’s both; just notice that. On your inhale, try expanding your belly to breathe into your lower hand. The more it expands, the more your diaphragm is working, and the more effective this will be to calm your nervous system. With practice, your top hand will barely move.
Notice what comes up for you during this process. When thoughts arise, notice them and see if you can let them pass on by. Lean into curiosity over judgement for optimal stress management. Read more about belly breathing here.
This is one tool for stress management, among tons of others. If this one does not resonate with you, try another! If your stress feels particularly taxing, reach out to us for counseling support. We wish you well and hope to connect with you soon!
Transcript from this Video
Hi everyone! Thank you for watching this tutorial on belly breathing. First, I’m going to teach you how to belly breathe and then I’m going to actually lead you through a mindfulness activity that can help if you’re feeling anxious thoughts.
If you want to practice with me, feel free to find a comfortable space you can be seated or lying down. Just make sure, if you’re lying down, you are staying awake for this! I don’t want you to miss anything.
Okay, so let’s go ahead and find either a lying-down or sitting position. I’m going to be lying down, so if you are lying down you can go ahead and come with me. If you’re lying down, bring your feet flat on the floor; this can help your lower back relax.
Then I want you to take one hand and place it on your belly and then place your other hand and place it on your chest. Before you change anything just notice which hand is rising and falling; maybe both are. Then, as you inhale, see if you can move your lower hand a little bit more. Inhale, filling up, and then exhale, allow your lower hand to lower back down. Keep practicing that.
You might notice that your top hand is still lifting and lowering. If that’s the case, just bring in some kindness to yourself. If you’ve never done this before, it takes some practice. But with time, you’ll notice that you’re able to keep your top hand still. Continue to belly breathe.
Belly breathing is really important for activating our rest and digest side of our nervous system. This can be really helpful when things feel out of control. You might have a lot going on. You might feel stressed out when that happens. The other side of our nervous system is activated – our fight, flight, or freeze. By changing the way that we breathe, we’re activating that calmer side of our nervous system.
So stay in your comfortable position if you’re there. I invite you to either gaze down or close your eyes and continue to focus on your breathing. As you have thoughts that come up, I just want you to recognize what those thoughts are. Instead of trying to push them away, just recognize what those thoughts are.
Then can you bring in some acceptance. Acceptance for the thoughts. Acceptance for what you’re experiencing right now. Take a big breath. Notice how your body is feeling. Notice the points of contact with your body and the floor or a chair or your couch. Notice where your hands are resting. Notice what your feet are touching.
For a moment, come back to that thought and we’ll do something called “non-identify.” Remembering that we are not our thoughts, let’s see if you can detach. Sometimes thoughts come up out of nowhere. We’re not our thoughts. Take a breath.
The last thing I want you to bring in is self-compassion. What can you do right now is to offer yourself self-compassion. That might look like saying, “I’m doing the best that I can right now. I’m doing the best that I can with what I have.” Take a breath.
Notice how your body is feeling again. Bring back in that touch sense – what your body is touching. Notice any sounds that you hear inside or outside of the room. See if you can take one more full breath. Breathe into your lower hand and let it go.
You’re welcome to stay there as long as you would like, feeling no sense of rush or urgency to move.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this mindfulness activity with belly breathing. Sending you lots of love and wellness and self-care. I’ll talk to you soon.