Photo Credit:
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Using Your Breath as an Anchor

Controlled, purposeful techniques can improve your physical and mental wellbeing in just minutes
Written by 
Cathy Garrard
Canyon Ranch Reviewer: 
Updated on: 
October 15, 2013

Many times, whether we’re trying to calm ourselves down or think twice before we speak, we take a deep breath. Sometimes it happens automatically, as if our bodies are telling us, “Wait, I need a minute.” Other times, we are more conscious about using our breath to ground us.

Breathing seems so simple, but it can be quite a powerful tool to help bring you back to center. In particular, controlled breathing—purposeful and focused breathing that anchors you to the here and now—can help prevent you from feeling overwhelmed or that you’re “losing control.” It is at the core of practicing mindful breathing, a calming technique that allows you to be thoughtful in your actions and reactions.

Breathing in and out is so automatic that we rarely stop and “get to know” how to do it, but doing so can tell you a lot:

Place one hand on your chest, the other on your abdomen, and breathe normally. It shouldn’t take too long to figure out which part of your body is rising and falling more frequently. Often, when we’re stressed, we take shallow, rapid breaths from our chests and may even hold our breath when we’re especially tense. But breathing from the abdomen relaxes us by encouraging a slower, more rhythmic pattern that massages our internal organs, supports a healthy heart and ultimately supplies more blood to our brains.

Aiming for 6 to 10 breaths per minute is ideal for synchronizing the rhythms of your heart rate, respiratory system and blood pressure—a harmony that balances your nervous system and reduces stress hormones.

Controlled abdominal breathing can take some practice. While the idea of doing breathing exercises may seem funny at first, they can become a comforting ritual you choose to engage in on a regular basis. The key is finding breathing techniques that work for you so you can keep them in your “pocket” and use them anywhere, anytime.

Here are three short exercises to consider:

1-Minute Breathing Technique
Lying on your back or sitting in a chair, rest your hand beneath your naval and feel your belly expand as you breathe. Inhale slowly, taking in a deep breath, and pause for three counts. Exhale, letting the air out slowly and evenly through pursed lips, and then pause for three counts. Continue at this pace for one full minute.

2-Minute Breathing Technique
Laying down or sitting in a chair, count down slowly from 10. Complete one full breath for each number. Inhale deeply as you think of the number “10,” and then exhale slowly. With your next inhale, think “9” and then let it out. Continue counting down in this way until you reach zero.

3-Minute Breathing Technique

Sitting in a chair, for the first 30 seconds, notice any thoughts, feelings, sensations that may be arising and try not to judge them. For the next two minutes, pay attention to your breath and how it moves through your body. Notice how your muscles feel, how your arms hang. Feel the space between your fingers, your thighs sinking into your chair and your feet against the ground. For the final 30 seconds, allow this awareness to expand as you observe your surroundings and truly engage in the moment—enjoying your cup of coffee, the light breeze grazing your skin, the flowers on your table.

More: Beneficial Breathing Techniques

Reference(s) 
Harvard Health Publications
National Institutes of Health
About the author 
Cathy Garrard is a freelance journalist who frequently writes about health topics. She is based in Brooklyn, New York.