The Art of Mindful Breathing

Mindful breathing is a core module of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and in my opinion, without the mindfulness aspect of the program, non of the other skills can be practiced with the effectiveness they are intended to have. Practicing mindful breathing sends the message to your brain to “calm down and relax.” In response, your brain transfers this message to your body, which impacts your entire physiological responses. By mindfully breathing, you can create a relaxing effect on your mind and body, and therefore your entire personality system. There are three basic types of mindful breathing techniques to promote a calmer mood:


Belly breathing

It’s common to fall into the habit of shallow breathing only within your chest. Instead of falling into this trap, build your ability to practice the art of belly breathing. Start by finding a comfortable place to sit down or lie down. Either way is fine, just be sure to sit or lie comfortably in a relaxed position. Place one hand on your upper chest and your other hand just below your ribcage. Breathe in through your nose, and notice your stomach rise as you inhale. The hand on your chest should remain relatively still, as you’re allowing the air to enter your diaphragm as opposed to your chest. Breathe out through your mouth slowly and feel your hand on your stomach fall inward. Repeat this process 3-4 times. 


4-8 Breathing

This breathing practice is a very simple way to practice bringing a sense of calm to your mind, reduce your levels of stress, and help lower the impact of intense emotions. Begin by closing your eyes and placing your feet flat on the floor. Then, inhale for four counts and exhale for eight counts. By exhaling longer than you’re inhaling, you’re actually activating your parasympathetic nervous system, which encourages your body to relax and calm down. Repeat this process 5-6 times.


Square/Box Breathing

Visualization while breathing can be extremely helpful to developing your breathing practice. Using any of your 5 senses, like sight, sound, or scent, can make it easier to unwind. Square breathing is a perfect example of this, as it is a practice that integrates visualization skills. While sitting in a comfortable position, inhale for four seconds; as you inhale, draw the first edge of a square in front of you. Hold your breath for four seconds while drawing the second edge of your square. Exhale for four seconds while drawing the third edge of your square. Finally, rest for four seconds while completing the square in your mind. Repeat this process 3-4 times.


Practicing mindful breathing techniques on a regular basis is an essential part of developing your new, healthy lifestyle choices. They are practical skills that are easily accessible in the moment that, when mastered, can literally be used anywhere at anytime. By incorporating mindful breathing into your daily routines, you will automatically develop your ability to feel increasingly relaxed and at ease throughout your day. My suggestion is to build a mindful breathing exercise into your morning, and nighttime routines, which is something we will discuss at a later stage of this program. For now, try spending time in the morning, preferably when you first wake up, and in the evening, just before you go to sleep, practicing one of the techniques we just discussed.


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