People often comment ‘Breathing? I do it all the time without thinking! What’s so different about this technique? The answer is simple:
When we breathe in, we activate the sympathetic nervous system. It is more of an effort to breathe in than out, so when we breathe in, we tense.
When we breathe out, we engage the parasympathetic nervous system; we relax and have a feeling of letting go.
Therefore, if we engage a pattern of a longer out breath than in breath, we cannot help but activate the ‘relaxation response.’ Try breathing in to a count of 7 and out to a count of 11 (or use any count that feels right for you, as long as the out breath is longer).
If we are counting and concentrating on our breathing, we are using our rational brain (our higher intelligence) which automatically has the effect of lowering arousal in the emotional brain because the two brain areas do not function well simultaneously.
Working with a trained therapist can help people learn to relax whenever they choose, gaining control over panic attacks and other anxiety related problems. The breathing technique is also useful in anger management, OCD or self harm, where emotional arousal is usually very high.
7-11 buys time to ‘step back’ from a situation and re-establish control. This simple breathing technique can have astonishing results and its effectiveness is not disputed. The science is there to back it up.
However, like any technique, it improves with practise. Just like the muscles we build when we go down the gym, our ‘mental muscles’ get stronger the more we use them.
So you might do some 7-11 breathing for 10 minutes on waking in the morning to get the day off to a great start, 10 minutes last thing at night to enjoy deeper and more restful sleep, and 5 or 10 minutes during the day or whenever anxiety levels start to rise.
Try it for yourself.
There are no nasty side effects and no contra-indications, plus, nobody has yet found a way to tax us for the air we breathe… so it’s absolutely free!
Frances Masters MBACP accred GHGI
Managing Director Fusion Therapeutic Coaching Ltd