Written by SHAMASH ALIDINA, mindful.org
What is Belly Breathing?
Explore this introduction to belly breathing to help you relax and reduce stress.
With belly breathing, you simply take long, conscious breaths. Ideally you breathe in for a count of three and breathe out for a count of five. Repeating this cycle will trigger the relaxation response—it’s the opposite of the fight-or-flight stress response in that you engage the nervous system to tell your body to relax and your mind to be at ease.
Two Basic Belly Breathing Tips
1. Breathe deeply. When you breathe deeply, your diaphragm at the base of your lungs pushes your belly out. This is belly breathing and is a natural way to breathe—you can see babies doing it.
2. As you exhale, gently press on your belly. As you breathe in, encourage your belly to expand, and as you breathe out, allow your belly to contract. You could even gently push your belly in with your hand when you breathe out to help you to do this, if it doesn’t come naturally to you.
Check Your Stress Levels with This Belly Breathing Practice
If the hand on your chest is moving but not your belly, you’re breathing in a shallow way.
- Begin by finding a quiet place to sit or lie down. If practicing for the first time, lying down may make it easier for you to understand what barely breathing actually feels like. Remember that belly breathing is a natural way of breathing. If you look at a baby or young child, you’ll see that their belly seems to naturally expand and contract slowly and smoothly as they breathe in and out.
- Once you’re settled and comfortable, place one palm gently around the area of your navel and the other palm on your chest. Continue to breathe normally, and just watch the movements of your hands. Does the hand on your belly move as you breathe in and out? And what about the hand on your chest? Which one moves the most, the hand on your belly or the hand on your chest?
- If the hand on your chest is moving but not your belly, you’re breathing in a shallow way. By learning belly breathing, you’re likely to feel more relaxed and have more energy, and your body will be fed with more fresh oxygen
- Keeping your hands on your belly and chest, begin by imagining there’s a balloon in your belly. When you breathe in, you’re inflating that balloon and when you breathe out, that balloon deflates. Now breathe in so that you fill the imaginary balloon in your belly as much as possible.
- Hold your breath for about two seconds. And then breathe out slowly and smoothly as you can, using your mouth as if you’re blowing through a straw. Now let your breath be normal and natural again.
- Notice how you feel. That was one belly breath. It was more exaggerated than an actual belly breath, but this technique helps to engage your relaxation response, making you counteract your feelings of stress. Just one breath in this way can help me to find some relaxation when you’re feeling tense, and you can do it at any time, wherever you are.
- Now you can experiment with counting as you do belly breath. If you want, on your next breath, breathe deeply and smoothly, expanding your belly as you slowly count to four. One, two, three, four. Hold for a count to one, two.
- And now slowly exhale to count six. One, two, three, four, five, six. And now breathe as you normally do. Notice how you feel this time, by extending the amount of time you breathe out compared to breathing in.
- Encourage your body to relax and your mind to calm. Your breath has a direct link to the systems in your body that make you feel relaxed. By doing belly breaths you send signals to your body that it is safe for you to feel relaxed and at ease. Your blood pressure goes down, your muscles relax and you can think in a more creative and holistic way. You can enhance the experience by bringing the attitudes of kindfulness into the experience, by really feeling the sensations of your breathing.
- Let the warmth of your hand against your belly represent a friendly, caring support. Allow yourself permission to be kind to yourself and not force anything too much.
- Now when you’re ready, try counting four belly breaths in a row. One, two, three, four hold one, two.
- And breathe out. Two, three, four, five, six, rest one, two. Belly breath in. One, two, three, four, hold one, two and breathe out again. Two, three, four, five, six.
- Do the last two belly breaths on your own, using a pace that feels right for you. Notice how you feel now, consider how relaxed you feel. Are you more or less relaxed than when you started? If you’re less relaxed, don’t worry about it too much. You’re just starting to learn this new technique.
Use a few belly breaths any time you feel excessively stressed, to make you feel more calm and relaxed. You can even practice some belly breaths before you begin the meditation, to give you a nice relaxing start.
Keywords; Guided Meditation, Deep Breathing, stress, relaxation
This article was adapted from Shamash Alidina.