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7:11 breathing: How does deep breathing make you feel more relaxed?

With mindfulness now all the rage, many online articles are now advocating breathing techniques as a way to lessen anxiety and control stress levels.

We have noticed that many articles fail to explain how such breathing can lower emotional arousal. The answer is very simple, and once grasped, provides an extra layer of understanding which might encourage more of us to try this simple and effective tool to control our anxiety levels. Breathing techniques are not just 'mind tricks; they produce a bodily response that lowers your anxiety in a very physical way.

Deep breathing techniques all have one thing in common: they work by stimulating what is known as the parasympathetic nervous system. You may have heard of the 'fight or flight' response – the term for the activation of the sympathetic nervous system when we perceive we are under threat).

The parasympathetic nervous system is simply the opposite of that – instead of getting you ready for action, deep breathing activates a natural bodily response that has been described as 'rest and digest'. Out-breaths decrease your blood pressure, dilate your pupils and slow your heart rate – lowering emotional arousal in the process. Practising a breathing technique a few times a day can lower your overall stress levels in the long term.

It is important to realise that it is the out-breaths that stimulate the response, so it stands to reason that a breathing technique with longer out-breaths than in-breaths will be effective in lowering emotional arousal.

Which breathing technique should I use?

On our Human Givens College training courses, we teach a technique called 7:11 breathing, and it is the most powerful technique we know.

Here is how you do it, and it is as easy as it sounds:

1 - breathe in for a count of 7

2 - then breathe out for a count of 11

Make sure that, when you are breathing in, you are doing deep ‘diaphragmatic breathing’ (your diaphragm moves down and pushes your stomach out as you take in a breath) rather than shallower breathing, which just inflates your chest. If you find that it’s difficult to count to 7 and 11, then reduce the count to breathing in for 3 and out to 5, or whatever suits you best, as long as the out-breath is longer than the in-breath.

Continue in this way for 5–10 minutes or longer if you have time – and enjoy the calming effect it will have on your mind and body. An added bonus of 7:11 breathing is that the very act of counting to 7 or 11 is a distraction technique, helping take your mind off your immediate concerns.

This 7:11 breathing technique for relaxing quickly is the most powerful we know and has been used for thousands of years throughout the world


This article originally appeared on the Human Givens Blog on the 26 October 2012.

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