There are two major breathing patterns of breathing: Chest breathing, which is often shallow, rapid, irregular, and associated with hyperventilation and anxiety; and abdominal breathing, which is deeper, slower, and even and elicits relaxation. With abdominal breathing, you are using the diaphragm, which is a sheet-like muscle separating the lungs and abdomen. In abdominal breathing, your abdomen will rise when you inhale, and fall when you exhale.
The skill described below involves a breathing component and a meditation component. The breathing component involves using your diaphragm muscle more than your chest muscles to breathe. The meditation component involves simply focusing your attention on your breathing and counting the breaths. As with all skills, this requires practice. Practice twice a day, about 10 minutes each time, in relaxing situations.
Introduction to meditation
A simple form of meditation is to uncritically attempt to focus your attention on one thing at a time. It may involve repeating a word or a phrase, gazing at a fixed object such as a candle flame, or simply attending to the rising and falling of the breath. This allows you to let go of thoughts about the past or the future, and simply focus on being in the here and now. When your mind wanders, let go of the thoughts, and gently bring it back again to your original focus.
An exercise in diaphragmatic breathing and a simple meditation
Step 1. Sit in a comfortable chair, or lie down. Mentally scan your body for muscle tension and direct your muscles to relax.
Step 2. Fully exhale. On your next inhalation, allow your lungs to expand gradually and take the air all the way down to the bottom of your lungs. Your belly should expand, and there should be relatively little movement of your chest.
Step 3. When you exhale, think of the air as oozing and escaping from your nose or mouth rather than being suddenly blown out.
Step 4. Breathe at a rate of around 10 breaths per minute (about 3 seconds on the inhalation and 3 seconds on the exhalation). Keep your breathing smooth and relaxed.
Step 5. To add a simple meditation, count every time you breathe in, and say the word “relax” on each exhale. Count up to 10, and then repeat. Focus only on your breathing and the words. If other thoughts come to you, simply allow them to pass from your mind and return back to your breathing, the counting, and saying “relax” on the exhale.
An online video demonstration