52 Weeks of Self Care

“Back Pocket” Breathing Techniques

Breathing, as a form of self care, can be simultaneously obvious and easy to forget about as a technique . Also, if you are in stress, a little voice often comes in and says “what’s breathing going to do?” and instead of using breathing techniques your mind settles for that logic and stays in panic. Breathing is not exciting or revolutionary, it’s consistent and effective. Breathing is almost annoyingly consistent in that way. I think it can almost be annoying that way like a straight A student who gets another A. But because it’s reliable, it’s a great tool to keep on hand. Essentially, when we have stressful thoughts it activates our sympathetic nervous system (quicker heart rate, shallower breath and more tension). Breathing activates our parasympathetic nervous system (slows down heart rate and increases sense of relaxation and well-being). I always like to have and share a few go-to breathing exercises that are easy to remember as a “back pocket” option when feeling stressed or overwhelmed.


Box Breathing (Click for Video)

I like box breathing because it is the simplest to remember. You breath in for 4 counts, hold at the top for 4 counts, breath out for 4 counts and hold at the bottom for 4 counts. That’s it.

Your internal monologue would sound like:

“In, 2, 3, 4. Hold 2, 3, 4. Out 2, 3, 4. Hold 2, 3, 4” And just repeat.

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Click for Video)

Alternate Nostril Breathing comes from the yogic tradition and is intended to balance both hemispheres of the brain. This one takes a little practice to get the hang of it but once you are familiar with it’s pretty easy. To do it, hold your left hand up and make a fist. Now open your thumb and pinky finger (essentially making the “hang loose” sign). Use you left thumb to close your left nostril and exhale all the air out through your right nostril and then inhale through your right nostril. Now use your pinky to close your right nostril and exhale through the left nostril and then inhale through the left nostril. Continue doing this for several rounds.

Your internal monologue will sound like:

“Left thumb closes left nostril. Exhale right, inhale right. Left pinky closes right nostril. Exhale left, inhale left. Left thumb closes left nostril. Exhale right, inhale right. Left pinky closes right nostril. Exhale left, Inhale left.

Diaphragmatic (Belly) Breathing (Click for Video)

Often our breathing becomes shallow, like everything in life, we love our shortcuts. However, we are meant to take deep calming breaths to get that signal to our brain that we want to relax. This one is simple to understand but sometimes it’s revealed how difficult it is to dip below our chest and get a full breath. This technique will help you re-engage the belly when you breath. To do it, put one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. As you breath in, feel your belly expand like a balloon and as you exhale feel it deflate. Continue for 3-5 rounds.

Your internal monologue will sound like:

“As I inhale, I feel my belly expand, As I exhale, I feel my belly deflate”

When This is Good For

  • When you are feeling anxious, overwhelmed or out of control
  • While waiting–waiting for someone to call you back, waiting for test results, waiting to talk to your boss. Pull one out of your back pocket.
  • Before bed if you are having trouble getting to sleep                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Note: This is a series where I cover 52 healing practices to increase mental hygiene. They are not intended to replace necessary mental health or medical services. I am not paid to do this but it should be noted that these articles are my opinion and not medical advice. Please discuss with your healthcare professionals to determine what practices are right for your needs.