Deep Breathing for Relaxation

When a person is feeling anxious, is under pressure or is nervous for some motive, he or she experiments in the body a state of generalized tension which is nothing else than the muscular tension felt as a consequence of that anxiety, pressure, or nervousness.

The procedure for training in deep breathing for relaxation which we are going to teach you has been developed with the goal of reducing as much as possible all those uncomfortable sensations which are the product of muscular tension in your body.

You will be able to use this procedure in all the occasions that you deem necessary, since it does not do any harm to practice it as often as you want.  Nevertheless, so that it may be of maximum effectiveness, it is convenient that you follow our instructions as faithfully as possible.

The procedure which we are going to teach you has proven to be highly effective, and easy to learn at the same time.  All you need to do is follow these simple instructions.

You need to decide that you will give yourself 15 or 20 minutes each time you do these exercises.  If you are concerned about the time you will be devoting to these exercises, don’t worry too much.  Actually, by relaxing your muscles and mind you will be able to be more effective and efficient performing your activities after you are relaxed.

It is a good idea to look at your watch before and after each session, to ensure that you are actually relaxing for 15 or 20 minutes.  If you relaxed for too little or too much time, try to adjust accordingly in future sessions.  Also, initially, try to do the exercises at least three times a day.  As you progress, once a day, especially at bedtime, should be sufficient.

Of course, if time is short or if you are in the midst of a tense situation, just concentrate on your breathing, as described below, and try to maintain your mind focused on your goal of staying relaxed.  The use of the positive phrase, as described below, is especially helpful under these circumstances.

Start your relaxation session by choosing the place where you will do the exercises.  Ideally, it should be a place free of distractions and noise, except low and regular noises such as from an air conditioner.  Try to turn off cell phones and any office or household equipment that may be operating.  A convenient place is usually your own bedroom, if you feel comfortable and at ease there.  You can also choose any other place, as long as you feel you can relax in that place, and as long as the temperature feels right.

Your next choice will be whether you want to lie or sit down.  Up to you.  What is important is that your body needs to be fully supported, that is, you should not have to use your muscles to maintain your posture.  Your bed or a reclining chair are ideal for our purposes.  Remember, however, not to cross your legs or hold your hands or arms.

The clothing you are wearing is probably OK as long as it fits you loosely.   If not, untie that belt and unbutton your pants, dress, or skirt, remove your shoes, loosen your tie, if you are wearing one, and loosen or remove any other garment that you may wish.  If you wear glasses, you might also want to take them off.

Start your exercises by getting into the mental frame that you are going to relax because you wish to feel better.  Typically, it is a good idea to control any wandering, negative, or repetitive thoughts, and concentrate on relaxing.  Just simply throw out of your mind any intruding thoughts by uttering a big “NO” in your mind, and concentrate on the state of relaxation you want to achieve.  If you want to, choose a positive phrase like “I want to feel better”, and repeat it to yourself as often as you wish, so as to block any other unwanted thoughts.

Now you are sitting down or lying in your bed.  Close your eyes and try to let go.  Allow your muscles to go limp, as much as possible.  Once you feel your body is as relaxed as possible, start concentrating on your breathing.  Try to make it as slow and relaxed as you possibly can, and breathe like this, for a minute.  In and out, very slowly, maintaining the rhythm, while thinking only about relaxing, your positive phrase, or keeping your mind blank.

I now want you to take a deep breath and hold it.  Count very slowly from one to ten, and then let go all that air.  Continue breathing slowly and regularly, with as little effort as you can.  Continue breathing slowly and in a very relaxed manner for a minute.

We will now take another deep breath and hold it in.  Count from one to ten again, very slowly.  When you reach ten, let the air out and continue breathing slowly and in a very relaxed manner for as long as you wish.

When you are ready, open your eyes, stretch a bit, and slowly and gradually return to your usual activities.  It is quite possible that you may have fallen asleep if you were in need of rest or were sleep-deprived.  If you did, you will probably feel more relaxed after you wake up or resume your activities.

This is an excellent exercise to do at night, in your bed, as it will facilitate your falling asleep, as long as you try to stop all intrusive thoughts.  If you wake up in the middle of the night, instead of starting to think about what you have to do, the bills you have to pay, or worry that you need to sleep because you have an important day the next day, do these exercises again, until you fall asleep.

During this type of deep breathing for relaxation it is best if you feel that the abdomen, that is, the area of your stomach, lifts up as you breathe in the air, and goes in as you exhale.  This is very important.  If you notice that you lift your chest or shoulders as you breathe, or that your breath is very shallow, you should stop and practice the abdominal diaphragmatic breathing as described below, as that is the type of breathing that is best associated to muscular relaxation.

Ensure that you are breathing with your abdominal area (diaphragmatic breathing) and not your chest.  One way to practice this type of breathing is to seat comfortably and place one hand on your chest and another on your stomach area.  You should only be moving the hand on your stomach area, in and out, as the air is exhaled or breathed in.  Practice this a while until you become an expert in diaphragmatic breathing.

To maintain your relaxation level throughout the day, you can practice by checking your overall level of relaxation-tension by using a scale, let us say, 0 to 10, where “0” is total bodily relaxation, almost falling asleep, going up the scale to “10”, the maximum tension, as if you were about to fight with someone.  Check your overall subjective level, and if you assess yourself at “40” or higher, do the following exercises.

Take a deep breath and hold it in.  Count slowly to ten, let the air go, start breathing slowly, allowing the air to fill your lungs slowly and also exhale slowly, while slowly counting again to ten.  Repeat this sequence five times, always alternating ten seconds holding your breath, and breathing in and out in a very relaxed manner.

To ensure that you will remember to practice the daytime deep breathing for relaxation many times throughout the day (you can even do it while in a meeting, and nobody has to notice!), it is important that you choose an activity that you already do many times in the day, like read a text message, send an e-mail, or after talking with someone in person or via the telephone.  By pairing the deep breathing for relaxation with the end of the chosen activities that you already do many times in a day, you will be remembering to practice your relaxation many times.  You can also count the number of times you practice these exercises on a daily basis, by keeping tally in a piece of paper (even a piece of masking tape taped to your desk) or in your smart phone, tablet or computer.  This will ensure that you know for sure that you are practicing a healthy amount of times every day.

Obviously, it is important that at the beginning you practice the deep breathing relaxation many times throughout the day, until your body can easily sense that you are tensing, which oftentimes happens without you realizing it as a consequence of your daily activities.  By maintaining an adequate level of relaxation-tension throughout the day you will have better control when something happens that makes you tense, and you will likely be able to manage the event with better control as your level of tension should have room to go higher without you reaching the maximum and probably losing control.

By practicing the deep breathing for relaxation as described herein you will be able to be more effective and efficient in carrying out your normal activities, and will enjoy life more.  Do it for yourself and teach your loved ones to be more relaxed.  You need to Learn to Live Better ®.


© 2009 Angel Enrique Pacheco, Ph.D., C.Psych.  All Rights Reserved.



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