Sometimes everyone needs a quick way to feel calmer and the 7/11 breathing technique is a brilliant technique for achieving this.
It can be used in any situation where you need to remain calm, especially when you may not be able to sit down and close your eyes, or maybe if you are in a public place and need to feel calm quickly. You can do it anywhere – in bed, on a bus or the train, even whilst walking gently.
This relaxing breathing technique simply requires that you breathe in for a count of 7 and out for a count of 11. However you don’t have to use these numbers as long as you remember to breathe out for longer than you breathe in. Some of my clients find it more comfortable and easier to use a count of 5 in and 8 out.
What does breathing out longer than you breathe in achieve?
The breath is aligned to the two main parts of the nervous system:-
• Sympathetic – which governs the parts of your body that need to be activated if there is any danger about or that needs an immediate response to. The sympathetic system is designed to be more active during the day and as an alignment with the in breath.
• Para-sympathetic – this governs the parts of your body that calms everything down and brings the body rest and relaxation. The para-sympathetic is designed to govern the body more at night and as more of an alignment with the out breath.
It does not matter how anxious you are feeling, breathing out longer than you breathe in forces the body to activate calming responses.
Practice makes perfect
Taking time out to practice this breathing regularly ‘anchors’ the relaxation response. This means that your body gets used to quickly creating the relaxation response when you start to breathing this way.
Counting has the effect of distracting your mind so that it can’t also be worrying or analysing stuff at the same time. It also helps to keep the “out” breath “half as long again” than the “in” breath. Note that you will have to breathe in slightly “harder” and breathe out “more gently” if you are not going to end up gasping for air!
With practice, after a few weeks you will not have to count as your body will naturally remember the rhythm.
Use your imagination too
It can really help if you can imagine yourself in a place which feels safe and calm while you do this. Some people imagine being on a warm beach, some a cool garden, others by a gentle stream or walking in a wood or in the hills. Other people prefer to imagine being curled up in their bed. Whatever works best for you, try to bring in all your senses into this imaginary picture. Wherever you choose to be, bring in the sights, colours, sounds, feelings (e.g. sun on your skin), taste or smell of the place you are thinking of. Using all your senses, even just pretending, can really help your body and mind to relax. Some people have never experienced anywhere which feels safe or calm. This makes it harder – but there is often something which works, even if it is getting lost in a video game or a physical activity such as running. Your imagination is a powerful tool. Practice using it.
How long for?
Most people find that 10 to 15 minutes a day of good 7/11 breathing really helps them. But it does take a little practice and needs to be learned as a new skill. It can be hard to keep count when you first start – but keep trying. You will need to concentrate quite hard at first – but it gets easier with practice.
It’s a bit like learning to ride a bicycle. When you start, you may find that as you get a bit more relaxed, your mind wanders off in a daydream and you forget to count. Think of this like having to put your foot down to stabilise yourself on the bicycle. Don’t give up – just try again. Once you can get to the end of the lane and back without taking your feet off the pedals, you have mastered the new skill. If you find that you have stopped counting, just start again and continue until you can do it for a full fifteen minutes. By the time you can keep it going continuously with at least part of your mind on the counting you will have mastered a valuable new skill.
The way to learn this amazingly easy yet effective relaxation technique is to:
- Settle yourself comfortably in a place where you won’t be disturbed. Make sure your clothes are loose.
- Sit or lie comfortably with your hands side by side in your lap, or your arms by your side, and your legs uncrossed. Align your head over your body in a position where your head seems to have no weight.
- Close your eyes
- Now concentrate on becoming aware of your feet on the floor, your legs and arms where they are resting and your head against the cushion, pillow, or chair back.
- Keep your shoulders down and breathe through the nose slowly, deeply and evenly from the diaphragm, i.e. your tummy moves in and out as if it had a balloon inflating when you breathe in, and deflating as you breathe out. (it can be helpful to put your hand on your tummy to feel it inflating like a balloon, as this lets you know that you’re doing it right).
- Breathe in for a count of 7, counting the numbers to yourself in your head.
- Breathe out REALLY SLOWLY for a count of 11, counting the numbers to yourself in your head. It’s important that each outbreath lasts longer than your in-breath because the out breath stimulates the body’s natural relaxation response. By changing your pattern of breathing in this way, your body automatically begins to relax.
- Do this between 10 and 20 times, knowing that you will relax more with each breath.
- If you can’t breathe out for a count of 11, hold your breath for the remainder of the time while you keep counting to 11 and then breathe in again. Alternatively, try breathing in to the count of 3 and out, more slowly, to the count of 5.
- Concentrate on the counting (if your mind wanders off , just gently bring it back to the count) and feel the welcome sense of calm gradually flowing in. Get a sense of much less tense you feel, just by breathing in this way and blocking out your over-busy thoughts.
REMEMBER:The more you practice the more your body will remember what it needs to do when you start to alter your breathing rhythm.
A FEW MINUTES CALM IS A WONDERFUL GIFT TO YOURSELF
See it as a skill for life!
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Tony helps individuals to harness the power of personal change to achieve success and well-being in life, work and business. Tony's particular area of expertise is in helping people perform under pressure and gain freedom from worry, anxiety and stress. Tony’s solution focused approach to coaching uses a range of techniques drawn from the fields of co-active coaching, hypnosis, positive psychology and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP).
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