Breathing: A Simple Technique for Staying Present

So, you and your team have a high-pressure finals presentation? Or you’re putting yourself under pressure to get business closed before the end of the quarter? These can be stress inducing periods of time.

You’ve likely heard it before, and I’ll remind you because it is worth our effort as a stress reducer, one of the most accessible and impactful of all relaxation techniques is diaphragmatic breathing, also called deep breathing or abdominal breathing. Breathing is something your body does below the level of thinking. Your autonomic nervous system is responsible for this, as well as your heart rate and thermo regulation. Breathing is the one aspect of your unconscious of which you can gain conscious control simply by bringing your attention to it.

In stressful periods, most of us wind up “chest breathing,” where the chest and lungs expand, but the expansion is restricted by tension and tightness in the muscles around the abdomen and ribs.

What can help us calm our nervous systems more fully is “belly breathing.” This kind of breath comes from the abdomen and uses relaxed muscles to engage the diaphragm. When the diaphragm contracts, your lungs expand, pulling air in through your mouth like a bellows. When you breathe from your abdomen, your belly will expand and move out with each inhalation. Your chest will rise slightly, but not nearly as much as with chest breathing; your abdomen is doing all the moving. And, while the benefits of deep breaths in have been widely reported, the ultimate trick is not so much how you breathe in but also how you breathe out

. The method has one simple rule – exhale for double the amount of time you inhale.

If you breathe in and count to four seconds, you should then slowly exhale and count to eight seconds as you do it. This triggers a change in the nervous system from ‘sympathetic’ mode – which is what we associate with fight or flight – to ‘parasympathetic’ – or ‘rest and digest’ mode.

During times of stress, the nervous system becomes over stimulated leading to an imbalance. This breathing technique can bring balance back to our triggered nervous system. A balanced nervous system helps us stay present.