Calming Breathing Exercises
& Meditation Breathing Exercises
Breathing exercises are a great way to calm the body and mind. Below are some different breathing exercises which I’ve tried. You can do these for just a few breaths or a 20-30 minute meditation. Every round helps you learn to calm yourself and to concentrate. Pick a few exercises you like and practice regularly to to build your skills.
“4 For Calm” Breathing top
Take 4 long slow breaths during which you
– Count silently from 1 to 4 with each breath in.
– Count from 1 to 4 with each breath out.
– Breath from the belly. Use the diaphragm (not the upper chest). The belly pushes out as you breath in. The belly pulls in as you push the air out.
This is a stress management technique recommended to community emergency response teams.
Another variation for handling stress is deep breathing with longer exhalation than inhalation. Relax as much as possible and start to listen to your breath. Then inhale to the count of five and exhale to the count of ten. Don’t worry if your exhalation seems too short and you cannot last until the full count of ten. Even if you only reach seven or eight counts that is fine. This will improve with practice and the main objective is to exhale for longer than you inhale.
Simple Breathing Meditation top
One of the simplest ways to meditate is to assume the calm attitude of a silent observer, watching the breath’s natural flow without controlling it as it enters and exits the body. When your mind wanders gently bring it back to the breath. Though very simple and easy to do even for beginners this meditation technique is highly regarded by gurus.
Reference – How to Awaken Your True Potential by Yogananda, p.121.
“Find a quiet, peaceful place. Sit comfortably erect. Relax your body from head to toe, focusing on relaxing each body part. Then take a few deep breaths. Inhale deeply and exhale deeply, being conscious that you are breathing in and out. This is the first step of withdrawal from external perceptions. Now bring your mind to your nostrils and watch the flow of universal energy, prana, moving in and out.”
“Thoughts will come and go to take you away from your concentration. Don’t worry. Don’t condemn your thoughts. Don’t condemn yourself. Just relax. Bring your focus back to your breath and keep breathing. Keep watching your breath mindfully. Let your thoughts go into the rising and falling of the breath.”
Reference – Your Mind Your Best Friend by Shuddhaanandaa Brahmachari, day 24.
This simple form of meditation “involves relaxing and focusing on your breathing. Set a timer for three minutes and close your eyes. Then, take slow, deep breaths. Concentrate on each inhalation and exhalation, and ignore all other thoughts.” You only need to do this for a few minutes to feel relaxed, refreshed and refocused.
Reference – Fast Focus by Damon Zahariades, p.108.
For a very simple Western method of spiritual contemplation see Friar Thomas Keating’s video on The Method of Centering Prayer.
Combat Tactical Breathing top
Combat breathing is used by combat personnel and first responders (like policement & firemen) to reduce the shakes & stress experienced during high-risk situations.
– Breathe in through your nose as you count up to 4.
– Hold your breath to the count of 4.
– Breathe out through your lips to the count of 4.
– Hold your breath to the count of 4.
– Repeat until you feel your body and mind relax.
Another variation is not to hold your breath. You can also change the count, like breathing in as you count to four (e.g., in 2 3 4) then breathing out as you count to seven (out 2 3 4 5 6 7) then repeat as needed until you calm down.
Another variation is to mentally say “reeeelaaaax” instead of counting as you breath out. I.e., breath in 2 3 4 then breathe out as you say “reeeelaaaax.”
Reference 1 – Stop Stress on the Spot
Reference 2 – Flight Surgeon on Combat Breathing
Breath Counting Meditations top
Counting silently to 4 with each breath in and counting to 4 with each breath out can help keep you focused. Sometimes this counting makes it easier to not lose concentration, especially when you are feeling scatterbrained. This is basically the same as combat breathing described above.
See how high you can mentally count your breaths without losing track of them during the following exercises. These exercises may show you how poor you really are at holding your attention on your breath. When your mind wanders simply bring it back to your breath and start again at 1 if you can’t remember where you are.
- Exercise 1 – Count on each inhale and each exhale. Inhale counting 1 then exhale as you count 2. Then inhale on 3, exhale on 4, and so on. It can be challenging to reach the count of 10 without losing track for some novices.
- Exercise 2 – Count on each exhale. Inhale without counting then count 1 as you exhale. Count 2 on the second exhale and so on. Count as high as you can easily go or just count to 10 and start over.
- Exercise 3 – On the in-breath, count “one,” and on the out-breath, count “two.”
Continue up to “ten.” Then begin again. If you lose count at any point, return to an inbreath,
and start over at “one.” As thoughts and feelings, pain and discomfort, restlessness and sleepiness arise, allow your counting to gently override their distracting chatter
Step Counting Meditation top
As you walk focus on your breath and count your steps as you go: 1, 2, 3, and so on. When you reach the 10th step, start again at 1.
Hong-Sau Meditation top
Using the highly regarded Hong-Sau concentration technique you mentally chant “Hong” (rhymes with song) as the breath enters and “Sau” (sounds like saw) as it exits. Focus on your breath, watching it go in and out, but do not try to control it.
This breathing technique can give you a deep sense of inner calm and bring you to the realization that you are not your body but a soul, a silent conscious witness.
Hong-Sau means “I am spirit,” “I am he,” or “I am he who watches.” In his Autobiography Yogananda states: “Ham-sa (pronounced hong-sau) are two sacred Sanskrit chant words possessing a vibratory connection with the incoming and outgoing breath. Aham-Sa is literally ‘I am He.’”
A more expanded version of the mantra is: “I offer my little egoic self into my higher Divine Self.” Note: egoic self is the individual that the mind considers itself to be. It is the voice of survival.
Reference 1 – Hong Sau technique
Reference 2 – 11 Reasons To Practice Hong Sau
Reference 3 – Yogananda on Hong Sau
Reference 4 – How To Awaken Your True Potential by Yogananda, Chapter 6, p. 120.
OM Breathing Chant top
The sound OM or AUM has been chanted by Yogis for thousands of years tp bring them closer to “God.” It is a sacred sound which stands for “who and what God is,” a concept which cannot be captured by a word or fully comprehended by the human mind.
- Take a deep breath in.
- As you exhale, chant the sound OM.
- When you run out of breath, breathe in and repeat the chant.
- Continue at your own pace for 2 to 3 minutes.
This can also be done silently. Another variation preferred by Yogis is to use the sound Aaa-Uuu-Mmm where you feel the “Aaa” sound in your belly, “Uuu” in your chest area, and “Mmm” in your head.
A more Western variation I often use during Centering Prayer meditation is to silently say either “joy” or “peace” (rather than OM) on the breath out.
Reference – How to Use Sound to Heal Yourself
Related Links top
- Meditation links on this Thought-Management.com website.
- Combat Stress Response & Tactical Breathing – Article for combat aviators on stress and how to reduce it with tactical breathing.
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